The UK's First Moon Rover Will Be A Tiny Jumping Spider In 2021

Spacebit

Spacebit, a U.K.-based startup, has announced details of its planned lunar mission in 2021 – revealing a spider-shaped rover that will scuttle across the lunar surface.

As we first revealed last month, Spacebit has a contract with U.S. firm Astrobotic to hitch a ride on their Peregrine lunar lander. Originally part of the canceled Google Lunar XPRIZE, this private endeavor will now attempt to reach the Moon after launching on a Vulcan rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida in late 2021.

At the New Scientist Live event in London yesterday, Thursday, October 10, Spacebit revealed exactly what its part of the mission would entail. Their small rover, measuring about 10 centimeters across and weighing just one kilogram, will be one of 17 payloads onboard the lander, 14 of which are being supplied by NASA, which awarded $79.5 million of funding to Astrobotic in May 2019.

“Our goal is to go there and see what is available there for all humanity to explore,” the company’s founder and CEO, Pavlo Tanasyuk, said at the event, describing their walking rover as “a little bit like a human.” The legs of the rover are designed to be suitable for exploring lava tubes on the Moon, hollowed-out tunnels that extend under the lunar surface, in the future.

Spacebit’s rover will be powered by solar panels, while it also apparently has the ability to “jump” on the surface according to the company’s website. It will have four legs, laser sensors, and a high-definition camera to capture images and video of the Peregrine lander and the Moon’s surface, including taking “robot selfies”.

Spacebit

Tanasyuk says the rover, which will be the smallest rover to reach the Moon and the first to operate using legs, will take measurements and collect data on the surface. It is designed to last one lunar day on the Moon, or about ten days, before temperatures drop too low and it can no longer operate.

This will not be the only rover on the lander, however. According to Astrobotic CEO John Thornton in New Scientist, there will be “multiple small rovers dropping and rolling or crawling or walking off and taking all kinds of pictures and data” on the mission. It’s unclear what these other rovers entail at the moment, although only Spacebit’s is understood to use legs rather than wheels.

“We’ve been working on this for a couple of years now,” Tanasyuk, told me last month. “We’ve passed a preliminary design review and a critical design review. Now we’re kind of all set for the flight.”

If successful this will be the first vehicle ever built and developed in the U.K. to reach the surface of the Moon, and only the fourth nation to operate a lunar rover after the U.S., Soviet Union, and China.

Jonathan is a freelance space and science journalist that specializes in commercial spaceflight, space exploration, and astrophysics. His work appears regularly in Forb

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