Home System concept A giant ride for humanity: the new breed of lunar rovers

A giant ride for humanity: the new breed of lunar rovers

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With many countries aiming to return a crewed mission to the Moon after 50 years away, there is a dire need for research vehicles to roam the lunar surface. This is particularly important if we aim to have a sustainable presence on the Moon to exploit lunar resources, or to use it as a springboard for more ambitious space exploration.

In response to this demand, many companies are producing lunar rover designs for potential future launches, including NASA’s Artemis program, as well as many other commercial launches.

A lunar rover must have the ability to travel across the rocky, dusty surface of the Moon while avoiding huge rocks and hilly terrain. It must also be energy efficient, as power sources to operate vehicles in space are limited.

Many companies are vying for a contract to get their design to the Moon. Take a look at some of the best in our gallery.

Venturi Astrolab – FLEX

Astrolab is developing the multifunctional Flexible Logistics & Exploration (FLEX) rover in collaboration with electric vehicle manufacturer Venturi. This rover seats two pilots and has the ability to pick up and drop off modular payloads in support of human operations, such as transporting mined materials or transporting bulky loads across the unforgiving lunar surface. Photo by Astrolab

The proof of concept FLEX Rover is shown being rigorously tested in the California desert, USA. The rover is adaptable and can be modified to carry a variety of payloads, like this solar tower. Photo by Astrolab

NASA – VIPER

NASA Viper Trial
NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) is scheduled to launch in late 2023 as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. Photo by NASA

An engineering model of the VIPER rover is tested in the Simulated Lunar Operations Laboratory at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. About the size of a golf cart, VIPER is a mobile robot that will wander around the south pole of the Moon in search of ice in the region and sample ice at the same pole where the first woman and next man on the Moon will land in 2024, as part of NASA’s Artemis program. Photo by NASA/Bridget Caswell/Alcyon Technical Services

Dymon – YAOKI

This photo, taken in Akabira on Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido on June 30, 2021, shows what would be the world’s first commercial rover for lunar exploration, called YAOKI. It was developed by the Tokyo-based space firm Dymon and will soon take part in NASA’s lunar transport mission. Photo by Kyodo News/Getty Images
YAOKI rover

A public experiment is being conducted on the YAOKI rover, June 30, 2021. YAOKI will be launched as part of Astrobotic Technology’s Peregrine lunar lander. The rover is very light and maneuverable, and perfect for lunar exploration. Photo by Kyodo News/Getty Images

JAXA and Nissan moon rover

In December 2021, Nissan unveiled a prototype lunar rover developed jointly with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) at its Nissan Futures event. Photo by Nissan/JAXA

With the development of this rover, Nissan was able to demonstrate its new “e-4orce” all-wheel-control technology, which should mean the rover would be less likely to get stuck in the notoriously tricky terrain of the Moon. While in its current iteration, this rover is unlikely to go to the Moon, research conducted using this demonstrator will undoubtedly influence future designs. Photo by Nissan/JAXA

More galleries from Scientific orientation magazine:

Astrobotic

The MoonRanger rover
Astrobotic’s MoonRanger, an autonomous rover, is undergoing testing ahead of its scheduled launch date in 2023. Once on the Moon, the rover will map the surface using NASA’s Neutron Spectrometer System, researching of water evidence. Photo by Astrobotic

Artist’s impression of the MoonRanger exploring the lunar surface. The suitcase-sized rover will be delivered to the Moon as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program in 2023. Photo by Astrobotic

Hookie – Tardigrade

Motorcycle design company Hookie produced this prototype moon bike, called the Tardigrade. This e-bike uses state-of-the-art technology, including 3D-printed wheels and an ultra-thin aluminum frame and Kevlar coating. As a result, the machine weighs only 140 kg. Picture of Hookie

The concept was turned into a working test model by Hookie in their workshop, and is the first moon bike concept to be produced. It’s unclear if it will ever happen on the Moon, but the concept is certainly original and advanced. Photo by J Konrad Schmid/txRecom

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