Transformable moon robot (left: before the transformation, right: after the transformation) JAXA
The moon could soon be visited by a funny, rounded robot friend. The Japanese space agency JAXA has announced that it will build a changing moon rover there ahead of its planned manned mission to explore the moon.
To travel over the lunar regolith – the dusty, earth-like substance that covers the lunar surface – the rover will be able to move from its spherical travel shape, which is as compact and efficient as possible, into an adorably named “running shape”, with which it moves in the lunar environment. It will take pictures of the surface to learn about the topography and characteristics of the regolith to help engineers develop a more maneuverable crewed rover.
The round rover is only a few inches tall or slightly larger than a tennis ball and weighs about 250 grams (8.8 ounces). To get all of the technology needed into this tiny form, JAXA is working with toy company Tomy and Doshisha University, with technology from Sony also contributing.
JAXA plans to launch the mini rover in 2022, followed by a much larger rover in 2029. This larger rover will be pressurized and crewed to allow astronauts to cover larger areas of the lunar surface and conduct wider explorations. JAXA will also work with NASA on their Artemis mission to the moon.
“In 2019 the Japanese government decided to participate in the Artemis program proposed by the US,” said JAXA Vice President Hiroshi Sasaki. “Based on the decision, JAXA has promoted mission development and systems studies for international space exploration with targets on the Moon and Mars by gathering Japanese technologies and knowledge.
“The manned pressure rover in particular will play an important role in the development of mobility on the lunar surface for sustainable exploration activities. The data on the lunar surface can be obtained using the transformable lunar robot which is a production of the Space Exploration Innovation Hub and the lunar landing emissions of the trading company. By making the best possible use of the data, we will certainly continue the study of the manned print rover. “