A few years before NASA's slick new spacesuits are deployed for the next generation of lunar explorers, robotic spiders are scheduled to arrive on the Moon and scurry across its powdery surface. While this might sound like the plot for some Golden Age sci-fi B-movie, it is in fact a reality that will hopefully be accomplished by the British startup space firm SpaceBit.
Sometime in 2021, the U.K.’s first-ever lunar rover (it's not specifically named yet) will head off to the Moon by hitching a ride inside Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander. Astrobotic is an American corporation funded by NASA that plans on partnering with a United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket blasting off from Cape Canaveral within the next two years.
This tiny four-legged robotic vehicle is the smallest ever of its type and weighs in at just over two pounds. It's designed to march onto the surface and test its hi-tech hardware before SpaceBit sends additional investigatory spiders to the Moon — when an entire army of these spindly machines will someday explore and map lava tubes using "swarm intelligence" to help establish permanent human colonies.
Once on the surface of our satellite, the cool crawling device will embark on a 10-day mission to record data and analyze the terrain in the 33-foot vicinity via its onboard full HD video camera. The creeping spider is also equipped with laser eyes in the form of a 3D LIDAR system to map the terrain around it in detail to broadcast it back to Earth-based relay stations.
If the mission is successful and the technology gently settles down near the region of Mare Serenitatis in the Sea of Serenity, the United Kingdom will become only the fourth country ever to place an unmanned rover on the Moon, following the U.S., Russia, and China. A private Israeli company known as SpaceIL attempted a one-way trip earlier this year that ended in failure after its Beresheet lunar lander crashed onto the surface in April.
“Our goal is to go there and see what is available there for all humanity to explore,” said SpaceBit CEO and Founder Pavlo Tanasyuk in a statement. “After we land, we will be exploring the Moon surface, and hopefully we will be able to the get into the lava tubes and explore the environment there."
“So we hope to find a stable temperature which will be suited for future human missions to the Moon," he added. “It is a rugged environment in the lava tubes so you can’t really use wheels there – that was why we had to design these legs instead of wheels. It will spend up to 10 days on the Moon before going into the night and basically freezing forever.”
SpaceBit's small-but-capable rover is battery- and solar-powered and can withstand temperatures from up to 266F to minus 202F at night, and will wander around the magnificent desolation of the Moon for one lunar day.
What do you think of these agile robotic marvels, and can you see them achieving their lofty goals in the near future? Or do you think there's a better chance of them starting a robot revolution and claiming the Moon as their own?