The moon is a big deal again. NASA is currently working toward a return to the lunar surface with the Artemis program and the (heavily delayed) Space Launch System rocket. Recently, the Australian Space Agency announced it would cooperate with NASA to send a rover to the moon in 2026, but a private Aussie rover could beat it there by two years. This robot, designed in cooperation with the University of Technology Sydney, will search for signs of water on the lunar surface, which could help support future exploration efforts.
This will be a pint-sized rover with limited capabilities, but the designers have come up with some interesting gimmicks. The 22-pound (10 kilograms) rover will measure just 60x60x50cm, slightly larger than your average proverbial breadbox. It will ride to the lunar surface aboard the Hakuto lander. Both the rover and the lander are being designed by ispace, a Japanese aerospace company that gained notoriety during the Google Lunar XPrize contest.
The rover will have a robotic arm, designed by Stardust Technologies (based in Canada) and Australia’s EXPLOR Space Technology. The arm will sport sensors and cameras, some of which will be able to collect “haptic” data. The idea is the mission will beam back this data, and people on Earth will be able to “touch” anything the robot has touched with a special sensor glove. The cameras will also capture high-resolution images to render in virtual reality.
Currently, the team is testing different configurations for the arm. Once engineers have settled on a design, they will have to integrate it with the rover. Then, EXPLOR Space Technologies will test the fully assembled bot at a facility in Australia. This testing will replicate the conditions on the moon as much as possible, ensuring that the robot will be able to operate in harsh conditions while also maintaining contact with Earth.
As we look to the moon and beyond, having accurate geological data will help make long-term missions more feasible. NASA and other space agencies are very interested in so-called “in situ resource utilization.” That simply means you harvest resources at the destination to build infrastructure, manufacture fuel, grow food, and so on. This can reduce the amount of mass we have to launch from Earth, which is phenomenally expensive. We can look forward to hearing more about the little Aussie rover in the coming months.