Britain’s Spacebit Plans to Launch Spider rover Asagumo to Moon in 2021
Britain to Send Spider Rover to Moon in its First Lunar Mission, by Summer of 2021
Recently, Spacebit announced it will send a rover to the moon later this year. Named Asagumo, this rover looks and walks like a spider, unlike conventional wheeled rovers. It is scheduled for launch in July 2021, through Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander spacecraft, on a Vulcan Centaur rocket. This will be the maiden flight of the Vulcan Centaur, which is a heavy-launch system that relies on a series of Blue Origin BE-4 engines, up to six solid rocket boosters, and a core booster to send payloads to low earth orbit (LEO), the moon and beyond. If the mission is successful, it will mark Britain’s first step towards having a rover on the Moon.
After reaching the surface of the Moon, the solar-powered Asagumo will start its mission to recognize the terrain around the rover using its onboard full HD video camera. The spider rover will also have laser eyes to take depth data: a 3D LIDAR system that will map the terrain around it in detail to send it back to Earth. The rover is built on a single-unit CubeSat frame that is usually used for tiny satellites and weighs just 1.3 kilograms, with a height and width both measuring 10 centimeters respectively. The four spider legs of Asagumo will help it walk its way over rough terrain, and crawl through underground lunar lava tubes that could be a potential shelter for lunar bases or even colonies in the future. The lunar lava tubes are tunnels beneath the surface of the moon thought to have once been filled with lava. Exploring these lava tubes is a crucial milestone as, according to Spacebit, it is something that hasn’t been achieved before.
Why Lava Tubes?
Spacebit founder, Pavlo Tanasyuk explains that lava tubes will be one of the safest places for future settlements on the Moon. “If you want to build a structure on the moon using regolith (the layer of rock fragments and dust that covers the lunar surface), well, it’s a very difficult process.” But in the case of a lava tube, one is shielded from all the radiation and deviation in temperature of outside, as inside lava tubes there is a steady temperature of around minus 30 degrees Celsius. “So it’s a bit cold, but it’s sustainable. But on the surface, you have minus 70 to plus 130 degrees Celsius in some places, so it’s a really harsh environment,” he adds.
Temperature and Other Challenges
The robot can withstand big swings in temperature, from 130 degrees Celsius (266 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day to minus 130 degrees Celsius at night. However, it is not the only challenge Asagumo has to overcome. The regolith makes it is a tricky affair to walk on the lunar surface. The rover the legs can sink into this layer, which can inhibit its movement. At the same time the dust and fragments can get into the intricate parts of the legs and the motors, clog them, such that they are rendered useless.
Hence to mitigate this, Spacebit designed the legs to look more like ski poles, which have pads on the end to stop them from disappearing beneath the surface. As for the second, it is a risk that the team is willing to take because they don’t want their rover to walk on the surface indefinitely, just long enough to get to their real target: a lunar lava tube.
Mr. Tanasyuk mentions that in its first demo mission, Asagumo will spend up to 10 days on the moon before going into the night and basically freezing forever.
Tanasyuk thought of building rovers with legs instead of wheels while he was listening to David Bowie’s song “The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars.” He revealed his idea to his friend from the Japan Aerospace Agency, while paying a visit. His friend immediately mentioned ‘asagumo’, a Japanese proverb about the morning spider who brings fortune.
The rover launch is estimated to cost over US$4.1 million. Moreover, this rover will be the first that is connected to the lander by Wi-Fi while a built-in drone technology can fly it back to the lander in case it loses the Wi-Fi signal.
Later in October this year, Spacebit has also secured a second trip which is dubbed as Mission 2 – to the Moon. Its target landing site is Vallis Schröteri (Schröter’s Valley) in the Moon’s Oceanus Procellarum (Ocean of Storms). This mission will see a larger wheeled lunar rover embark across the lunar surface, dispatching multiple Asagumo robots – with a general purpose of assessing which resources are available on the lunar surface, aiming to provide support for NASA’s Artemis program. The mothership will sustain the Asagumo robots for the duration of the lunar night. At dawn, they will crawl back outside and continue their exploration. Both missions are courtesy of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS).
If everything goes perfectly, a third mission has also been planned whereby a ‘swarm’ Asagumos will explore and photograph the network of lava tubes that exist under the moon’s surface.