Lightweight rover will explore dark side of the moon
A 40kg lunar buggy developed by EU-funded researchers could enhance our understanding of the origins of the solar system and make future manned missions to the moon more feasible.
© Mikhail Ulyannikov #59282771, source: stock.adobe.com 2019
A more profound understanding of the moon and the chemical compounds found there could provide clues to the origins of our own planet and the evolution of the solar system, as well as making it easier to establish a base for deeper space exploration. Researchers are working on a lightweight vehicle that will bring this knowledge a step closer.
Small autonomous vehicles known as rovers are a key part of information gathering and analysis of rock samples from the moon, but they are expensive to build and transport. The prototype rover being developed in the EU-funded LUVMI project weighs just 40kg and will operate more efficiently than its predecessors.
The LUVMI vehicle will be equipped with a range of instruments that can detect chemical elements and compounds known as volatiles substances with low boiling points, including hydrogen and methane that are known to be present on the moons surface.
While traditional rovers dig into the moons surface and extract samples for analysis, LUVMI will be able to analyse material beneath the surface without the need for extraction, thereby reducing the risk of contamination and halving the time needed to carry out the research. This advance has been made possible thanks to a miniaturised analysis probe built into the rover.
The vehicle is specifically designed to operate in the moons polar areas which remain in permanent shadow. China, Russia, the US and Europe are all planning moon-landing missions within the next decade, according to the project website, and the discovery of water would make future manned missions much more viable.
At the end of 2018, researchers carried out tests on the instruments and the vehicles autonomous mobility and navigation abilities along the Dutch coast, on challenging surfaces including rugged terrain and sandy dunes. The project consortium is now working on developing a flight version of LUVMI that will one day fly to the moon. The researchers hope it will be ready by the early 2020s.
An interactive video on the project website allows users to simulate driving the rover, and the team have made available 3D printing instructions for the prototype.