Once again, the UK science sector has produced an exciting new product as a result of research and innovation. British robotics company, Spacebit, has created the world’s first walking rover. This advanced piece of technology, which has been named Asagumo, will be doing its’ first trip to the Moon in 2021. Spacebit’s project will be the first time a British rover has landed on the moon.
Spacebit chose legs over wheels, a significant innovation in rover design. This decision allows Asagumo to explore the moon’s surface more easily than wheeled rovers; able to walk across bumpy terrain and explore lunar lava tubes. Asagumo will be able to explore areas of the moon never seen before.
Spacebit CEO, Pavlo Tanasyuk, explained this important step; “If you want to go long distances you take the car, but if you want to climb something, you use your legs, so it’s more suited to that kind of exploration.”
Asagumo stands at only 3.9 inches tall. This tiny “spider” rover was no mistake. The moon’s surface is covered in a thick layer of dust, called regolith, which is easy to sink into, as well as clogging up machine parts. The lightweight frame of Asagumo enables it to glide across the surface of the regolith without penetrating it. Each of its’ four spindly legs has a flat pad to increase surface area and further prevent regolith penetration.
Within the rover, there are instruments capable of measuring radiation, taking 3D and lidar scans, filming HD video, and a range of other measurements.
Asagumo will travel up to the moon in the ULA Vulcan, and will be delivered to the moon’s surface by Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander spacecraft.
The rover will be linked by wifi to the lander, sending data packages to the Peregrine to be sent back to earth. Wifi connections limit the distance asagumo rovers can travel away from the landing point, so it is crucial that they find lava tubes close to the location the Peregrine lands.
Lava tubes are chamber tunnels within the moon’s rock surface, created by lava rivers over a billion years ago. The interest, from Earth, in lava tubes is due to their potential as shelters for human habitation.
Evident in the high-tech space suits worn by astronauts, the moon is a dangerous environment for humans. During the Lunar night in particular, temperatures fall extremely low, to around -170℃, or more. Furthermore, the moon’s surface has high levels of solar radiation which also pose a threat to human life.
The lava tubes provide a solution to the treacherous moon surface. Their protected tunnels shield against low temperatures and radiation. Temperatures inside the lava tubes fall only between -20℃ and -30℃, allowing them to be heated up easily.
The earth also contains lava tubes, however these seem to only reach around 60 feet wide. Alternatively, the size of the moon’s lava tubes can span to hundreds of feet wide.
Current rover technology cannot explore lava tubes due to their inaccessibility. A rover with legs was a crucial innovation in exploring lava tubes and assessing whether they could be home to the first of earth’s colonies.
The first mission, planning on taking place this summer, will be a tech demo of Asagumo’s capabilities on the moon. The rover will explore the moon and record a range of data, including surface measurements, HD video, and lidar scan data. The information will be transmitted via wifi back to the Peregrine, and sent to earth.
In the second mission, estimated for 2023, Spacebit will send a wheeled rover, acting as a mothership which carries 4 Asagumo’s inside of it. It will drop these rovers onto the surface to explore more of the surface and transmit data back to earth. The wheeled rover will also protect the Asagumo rovers from the potential damage of the lunar night.
The third mission in 2026 will begin full lunar cave exploration. The rovers will create detailed 3D scans of the cave insides, exploring the tube networks across the moon’s surface.
While still in the first stages of exploration, Asagumo’s technology creates a new level of hope for planet exploration. In the next decade, there is hope that Spacebit’s technology could contribute to unprecedented exploration on Mars.