JAXA to send tiny transforming robot to the lunar surface
The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is planning to send a tiny transforming ball-shaped robot to the lunar surface. Once it arrives, the device will gather data for the development of a future crewed exploration rover.
JAXA is one of the many space agencies attempting to develop new technologies and innovative hardware that will allow for the establishment of a permanent presence on the Moon’s surface. To that end, the agency is seeking to create a human-rated fully pressurized rover capable of transporting astronauts safely across the inhospitable lunar landscape.
In order to inform the development of this rover, JAXA is planning to send a tiny transformable robot to Earth’s largest natural satellite. The robot is being developed by JAXA in conjunction with Sony, Doshisha University, and toy manufacturer the Tomy Company. Lunar exploration company ispace has been contracted to transport the robot to the surface, using its commercial Moon lander in 2022.
While being transported to the Moon, the micro rover will be in its ball configuration, during which it will measure a mere 80 mm (3 inches) in diameter. Upon reaching the surface, the 250-g (8.8 oz) robot will be commanded to transform into its "running form," at which point it will open up, and the two halves of the protective sphere will act as the robot’s wheels.
Its mission will be to capture images and data on the lunar surface. More specifically, JAXA is interested in knowing how the regolith that makes up the Moon's upper layer reacts to being disturbed by the rover’s movement.
Since the rover is far too small to house a transmitter capable of sending data directly back to Earth, the robot's findings will instead be communicated using the lunar lander as a relay. JAXA hopes that the data will provide a better understanding of the lunar surface, which will in turn help its scientists to develop an automated driving system capable of dealing with the otherworldly terrain.