One giant joyride for humankind: The new breed of lunar rovers

With many countries aiming to send a crewed mission back to the Moon after 50 years away, there’s a pressing need for research vehicles to travel the lunar surface. This is especially important if we are aiming to have a sustainable presence on the Moon in order to harness lunar resources, or to use it as a springboard for more ambitious space exploration.

In response to this demand, many companies are producing designs for lunar rovers for potential future launches, including NASA’s Artemis program, as well as many other commercial launches.

A lunar rover must have the ability to travel across the Moon’s rocky and dusty surface while avoiding huge boulders and undulating terrain. It also needs to be energy efficient, as energy sources for operating vehicles in space are limited.

There are many companies vying to get hold of a contract to get their design up on the Moon. Take a look at some of the best ones in our gallery.

Venturi Astrolab – FLEX

lunar rover test
Astrolab is developing the multi-functional Flexible Logistics & Exploration (FLEX) rover in conjunction with electric vehicle maker Venturi. This rover has room for two pilots, and has the ability to pick up and deposit modular payloads in support of human operations, such as the transportation of mined materials or the carrying of large loads on the unforgiving lunar surface. Photo by Astrolab

The proof-of-concept FLEX Rover is shown being rigorously tested in the Californian desert, USA. The rover is adaptable, and can be changed to carry a variety of payloads, such as this solar tower. Photo by Astrolab

NASA – VIPER

NASA Viper test
NASA’s VIPER rover (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover), is due to be launched in late 2023 under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. Photo by NASA

An engineering model of the VIPER rover is tested in the Simulated Lunar Operations Laboratory at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. About the size of a golf cart, VIPER is a mobile robot that will roam around the Moon’s south pole looking for ice in the region and actually sample the ice at the same pole where the first woman and next man on the Moon will land in 2024 , under NASA’s Artemis program. Photo by NASA/Bridget Caswell/Alcyon Technical Services

Dymon – YAOKI

This photo, taken in Akabira on the northernmost Japanese main island of Hokkaido on 30 June 2021, shows what would be the world’s first commercial rover for lunar exploration, called YAOKI. It has been developed by Tokyo-based space venture Dymon, and will soon take part in NASA’s lunar transportation mission. Photo by Kyodo News/Getty Images
Yaoki rover

A public experiment is conducted on the YAOKI rover, on 30 June 2021. YAOKI will be launched as part of Astrobotic Technology’s lunar lander Peregrine. The rover is very light and maneuverable, and perfect for lunar exploration. Photo by Kyodo News/Getty Images

JAXA & Nissan lunar rover

In December 2021, Nissan unveiled a lunar rover prototype jointly developed with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) at its Nissan Futures event. Photo by Nissan/JAXA

With the development of this rover, Nissan has been able to demonstrate it’s new ‘e-4orce’ all-wheel control technology, which should mean that the rover would be less likely to get stuck on the Moon’s notoriously tricky terrain. While in its current iteration it is unlikely this rover will make it to the Moon, the research conducted using this demonstrator will undoubtedly influence future designs. Photo by Nissan/JAXA

More galleries from ScienceFocus magazine:

astrobotics

moon ranger rover
Astrobotic’s MoonRanger, an autonomous rover, undergoes testing before its scheduled launch date of 2023. Once on the Moon, the rover will map the surface using NASA’s Neutron Spectrometer System, looking for evidence of water. Photo by Astrobotic

An artist’s impression of the MoonRanger exploring the lunar surface. The suitcase-sized rover will be delivered to the Moon through the NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program in 2023. Photo by Astrobotic

Hookie – Tardigrade

Motorcycle design firm Hookie produced this prototype lunar bicycle, called Tardigrade. This electric e-bike uses cutting-edge technology including 3D-printed wheels and an ultra-thin aluminum frame and kevlar covering. Because of this, the machine only weighs 140kg. Photo by Hookie

The concept was turned into a working test model by Hookie in their workshop, and is the first lunar bike concept to have been produced. It is not clear whether this will ever make it to the Moon, but the concept is certainly original and advanced. Photo by J Konrad Schmid/txRecom

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