Robot Transformer To Probe The Lunar Terrain (Astronomy)

The Japanese space agency Jaxa plans to map the lunar soil in detail for the human program Artemis using a robot transformer – designed in collaboration with several Japanese companies and multinationals

“Team Japan” is the Japanese space agency Jaxa’s way of referring to its network of partners involved in future space missions. The aim is to leverage the know-how of some of the country’s leading companies to develop unique new space technologies on the one hand, and to grow the country’s economy on the other. A virtuous synergy thanks to which, starting from 2019, Jaxa joined the Artemis program with two objectives: to develop a manned pressurized rover for lunar exploration and – preparatory to this – to create a transformable lunar robot to map in detail the ground on which the rover will draw its exploration routes.

On the lunar surface, where the rover and its crew will travel, gravity is one-sixth that of Earth, and the ground is covered with regolith – material typical of several sandy-textured extraterrestrial planets. The conceptual study of the rover systems – and in particular the design of the autonomous driving system – immediately highlighted the need to acquire detailed data on the conformation of the lunar surface.

Lunar lander developed by Ispace. Credits: Ispace, inc

In the case of the transformable lunar robot, the “Japan team” built in 2016 sees the joint work of Jaxa, the Japanese toy company Tomy, the well-known multinational Sony and the University of Doshisha. The transport of the robot to the moon will also be conducted by the Japanese company Ispace. It is an ultra-compact and ultra-light robot that uses Tomy Company and Doshisha University’s miniaturization technologies, Sony’s control technologies and Jaxa’s space environment management expertise. Upon its arrival, the robot will be able to transform itself acquiring a shape suitable for motion on the lunar surface, so as to occupy the smallest possible volume during transport to the Moon.

The transfer will take place aboard the lander built by the Japanese company Ispace – which will be launched in 2022. During the exploration of our satellite, both the robot and the lander will take continuous images of the surface and the behavior of the regolith as the robot passes, and the they will send to the mission control center on Earth. The acquired data will be used to evaluate the location algorithm and the impact of the regolith on the driving performance of the manned pressurized rover.

And, since collaborations are never one-sided, who knows what space toys Tomy will be able to design for Japanese children – and beyond.

Featured image: The transformable lunar robot before (left) and after (right) the transformation. Credits: Jaxa, Tomy company, Sony, Doshisha university

Provided by INAF

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