Image credit: Spacebit
If all goes according to plan, the moon will soon be invaded by spiders. Spider robots, that is.
Developed by U.K.-based Spacebit, the Asagumo spider robots are designed to crawl on the moon, exploring caves and lava tubes. Their first mission is scheduled for launch in July 2021, aboard the ULA Vulcan rocket. The Asagumo spider robot will be transported in Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar landing device, and it will be a test to see if the rover properly operates on the moon.
During the test mission, the spider robot will move about 30 feet from the Peregrine and send images and other data from its onboard sensors back to Earth via the Peregrine landing device. In future missions, Spacebit will test a larger wheeled rover, which can house multiple crawlers. If successful, the Asagumo robots will return on future missions to collect data about the lunar surface.
Smart Creepy Crawlers
The solar-powered Asagumo robot is light and small, built on a 4-inch CubeSat frame typically used for small satellites and weighing about three pounds. Instead of wheels, it has four jointed legs with snowshoe-like feet to prevent the legs from sinking into soft ground. The legs make the devices nimble enough to crawl over rocky patches of ground, into caves, and through lava tubes. It can even jump over obstacles. Spacebit claims Asagumo is the first rover with legs to walk on the moon.
Equipped with an onboard full HD video camera, laser eyes, and a 3D LIDAR system, the spider robots will traverse the terrain, mapping the surface of the moon and exploring its crevices. They will take measurements and collect images and scans, providing scientists with a 3D map of the moon’s network of lava tubes.
Using a “swarm architecture” the Asagumo robots will fan out from the mothership to collect lunar data. The spider robots will communicate with each other to accomplish complex tasks. The data from the Asagumo robots will be sent to the landing device via WiFi, another first for lunar rovers. If the WiFi signal is lost, built-in drone technology can fly it back to the lander.
The robots are designed to operate for about 10 days. For the cold, long, lunar night (about two weeks), when temperatures can dip lower than -300 degrees F, the Asagumo robots will return to the landing device. The mothership will protect the robots and transport them to other locations efficiently.
Space Exploration for the Masses
The Asagumo is designed with standardized equipment and off-the-shelf components, making it less expensive and faster to build than typical spacecraft. Each robot costs about $3 million and can be built in less than a year, which could encourage other organizations to tackle space exploration.
Spacebit and Astrobotic are part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, which encourages private companies to build devices for lunar transport and exploration. CLPS plays a role in NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to bring two astronauts to the moon by 2024 and build a lunar base station inhabitable by humans.
Image credit: Spacebit
The Peregrine lunar lander will carry 28 uncrewed payloads to the moon on its first mission. Fourteen will come from NASA. Spacebit’s Asagumo is one of the 14 provided by private companies, universities, and other organizations.