NASA has decided on the participants for its mini-lunar competition.
Over the past few years, miniaturization has determined the appearance of not only electronic devices like smartphones and laptops, but also satellites. Now, it seems, the same process will affect moon rovers. Technologies allow making them much smaller in size than their “brothers” who visited the Moon earlier.
NASA decided to hold a competition to determine the best mini-lunar rovers designed to study the surface of the moon. It was decided to send one of such devices to the natural satellite of the Earth by 2020. Proposals from potential participants in the Lunar Surface Instrument and Technology Payloads competition were accepted until last Monday.
The conditions were simple, for example, the mass of the apparatus should not exceed 15 kilograms. This condition was stipulated in order that the lunar rover could be sent to the moon of any of the existing launch vehicles. The mass restriction allowed the contestants to be as resourceful as possible.
NASA expects the emergence of 8-12 winning projects approved for the practical implementation of the project until the spring of 2019. One of the companies, which is called Lunar Outpost , offers a solution that meets absolutely all the conditions of the competition. During the implementation of the mission, the authors of the project are going to create a rover Lunar Prospector capable of traveling on the surface of the moon for a long time.
At the same time, Lunar Outpost plans to create not one, but several (up to 12) such rovers, who will travel across the surface of the Moon in search of ice, precious metals and other resources. “We want to create an outpost of humanity on the Moon, but first we need to research the Earth satellite for the presence of valuable resources,” said Justin Cyrus, executive director of the company. He believes that the technology created by his company is fully consistent with the realities of the project.
Each of the rovers weighs 10 kilograms, which is about half of those declared by the organizer of the mass competition. As for the size, they are also small - about 45 cm in length and 40 cm in height. Rovers, according to the creators, should be autonomous, with side lidars - this is necessary to create a detailed map of the lunar surface. Sensors are also provided that will allow moon rovers to travel through the shaded areas of the moon, without falling into difficult situations. In the shade, according to some astronomers, there may be ice, on the surface or under non-moon rovers will be able to drill the surface to a depth of up to 16 cm.
Lunar Outpost was first established in 2017. The purpose of its formation is the development of a promising rover, which should have been ready by June of this year. A few months later, the organization began testing its device under conditions simulating the conditions of the Moon. In particular, the lunar rover should be able to climb slopes of steepness up to 30 degrees.
"Our goal is rapid development, iteration and the creation of a lunar rover." If it doesn't work out - well, well, we will get a useful experience that will help avoid problems in the future.
Interestingly, Lunar Outpost appeared thanks to business angels. From the moment of receiving the first investment the project existed only on this money - there were no additional investments. The head of the organization said that his employees and he began to create a company from scratch, having worked with the government and industry. The developers were convinced that the space industry is now in crisis, both in manpower and in terms of the development of space exploration devices.
The project management is confident that the organization will be able to announce its first mission to the Moon soon - most likely in the summer of next year. But all this will depend on the choice of representatives of NASA, who have the right to "assign" winning projects.