After the very last crewed mission to the moon in the year 1972, there has been a huge time when no astronauts have visited the moon to collect samples or for any further research regarding if life is possible there or not.
The last mission to carry humans from earth to moon was a NASA based mission, Apollo 17, which has broken many of the records. The mission took 12 days to complete and it broke many records including the longest space walk, the largest lunar samples to bring on earth, the longest successful lunar landing and many more.
But, after almost 5 decades, from 1972 to 2022, the planning to send humans to the moon and as well as on Mars has started again. It’s not that Apollo 17 was the last mission planned for sending crew in the outer space, but due to funding issues, NASA eventually stopped their missions to send humans to the moon anymore.
Till then, the research on the lunar surface is being done using robotic rovers. But, one rover at a time can accomplish one mission like taking samples or doing payloads. But, but, but!!! A new invention just landed amongst the already made rovers, FLEX which is going to explore the moon and is there to break all the records. Yes, after the largest sent rover to the moon carrying humans, Apollo 17, the FLEX will break all the records of the past lunar missions.
On 31st March 2023, a new explorer in space, Astrolab, officially announced its deal with Elon Musk’s Space exploration company, SpaceX regarding its lunar rover. Astrolab, signed a contract with SpaceX to send their Flexible Logistics and Exploration, FLEX rover on the lunar surface by as early as 2026. And boom!!
It’s none other than SpaceX’s Starship launch and landing system which is going to accomplish this mission. Regarding the mission, SpaceX said, “Developing sustainable outposts will require lunar logistics and transportation on the surface of the Moon, like what Astrolab offers. We look forward to working with the Astrolab team to deliver their FLEX Rover to the surface of the Moon.”
Let’s see how this idea of creating a multitasking rover has come into the minds of a newly established company. The story begins with a groundbreaking leap forward for space exploration, more specifically for the Moon and the Mars. Astrolab has revolutionised the way planetary rovers are designed and utilised, with the introduction of the FLEX rover.
The company’s main mission is not just sending this robotic Jeep Wrangler to the moon, but sending humans too. The company assures that after taking its first flight, FLEX will be ready to take humans with it too. Not just on the Moon, but also on Mars. Yes, to accomplish their wide thoughts and ideas, they have to create something which is very strong, multitasking, and chargeable.
With the increasing technology, there is no need left to create different rovers for different missions. The company’s FLEX alone can do a couple of tasks, from carrying payloads to the moon to collecting samples from there and returning back to earth. All in just a single rover. And, for a faster work… thanks to SpaceX and its Starship launch system which is fast enough to complete lunar missions within a year rather than taking a complete decade.
The FLEX rover is ready to take any task given to it. Astrolab has already tested the base model of the rover in the deserts of California and it performed very well. The robotic arm which is planned to be connected with the rover will help in the payload system, construction work as well as it will also help in docking and undocking with the SpaceX’s Starship.
The FLEX will explore everything on the moon with its vast technology. Let’s take a closer look at the designs of this outperforming rover. The company has revealed the specs of the rover and it’s time to know and look at each of the particular technologies this rover will acquire. On the very head of the rover we have a Steerable High Gain Antenna.
The multi-tasker will be equipped with a long antenna over its head that will allow it to maintain high-bandwidth communication with the space centres at the Earth. The company can easily command the rover to move forward or backward and perform other tasks using the satellite signals to transmit data. Next to go is the Modular Crew Interfaces.
Flex is equipped with a special feature and that is its removable standing crew interface. It allows more and larger payloads to get transported to the lunar surface despite having the particular space for the payload systems. In future, this space will be rebuilt to send the crew on the lunar surface after some successful flights. This is INSANE!!
Right in front of the rover are the Navigation & Hazard Detection Sensors. The rover is designed to have a couple of sensors at the front in the shape of the headlights. These sensors will help the rover to find direction on the surface and avoid large obstacles on its way.
Apart from this, the sensors will also control the robotic arm to help in the correct payloads and don’t throw things on the surface. Here comes the most interesting thing which is its Robotic Arm & Remote Science Mast. The six degree-of-freedom robotic arm allows FLEX to perform science and logistics activities without any worries of losing payloads right there.
The robotic arm is capable of carrying the payloads and aligning them. It can also help in docking and undocking the rover with the Starship thus providing easy mobility. Just beside it are the remote science mast’s stereo cameras that allows the rover to see the area in 3D.
With this, the rover can take images of the space, moon and even help it to move ahead on its way easily without getting hit by a mountain or obstacle. Right at the front below the sensors, the rover is equipped with the Payload Interfaces. To have the customer’s items the company is taking, and important crew tools to get safely transported on the moon, the FLEX’s underslung payload interface can mobilize up to 3m³ of payload.
In addition to the above two top-deck payload interfaces which are built in place of the crew space, the underslung payload space helps the rover to have more space for important items such as the crew tools and sample containers. It’s pretty sure that moon’s surface is not smooth like a cemented lane, it’s just like the off-road mountains and that’s why these Adaptive Suspensions are added in the rover right above the wheels.
The robotic Jeep is going to have artificial limbs!! Just kidding, but that’s true… the adaptive suspension acts like the legs which takes the rovers body up while driving fast, whenever the hazard detection sensors give the signal of an uplift terrain. It will also make it easy to pick and deploy payload time by adjusting the body height.
At the very side of the rover, The Deployable Solar Array gives complete power to it to carry out its mission without any battery loss. FLEX utilises four-wheel crab steering to continuously face its 3m² solar panel array towards the Sun while in motion, ensuring a constant power supply to its internal batteries. The array can be retracted during dynamic activities to prevent dust buildup. IMPRESSIVE!!
And at the last and very bottom of the rover are the Compliant Wheels. It’s pretty sure that a machine cannot walk and needs wheels… that’s what these compliant wheels do. But, they are not just like normal wheels. They provide the rover an excellent mobility over the soft soil of the moon’s surface.
Everyone knows that the moon’s gravity is one sixth of the earth and hence it’s difficult to have a ride on it. And hence, keeping this thing in mind, the rover will be made completely the way it can easily move over there. “Our Astrolab team has created much more than a rover for use on the Moon or Mars,” said Jaret Matthews, Founder and CEO of Astrolab.
“We’ve created a logistics system that can accommodate a wide variety of cargo. We expect that this approach will help establish a permanent lunar outpost on the Moon at a lower cost and in less time than previously envisioned. We are delighted that this contract with SpaceX will allow Astrolab to demonstrate the advantages of the FLEX rover and its modular payload system.”
The moon is just the beginning as per the company… They are planning for complete human transportation over the moon once the life supporting factors are found there. And not just this, to send people to the red planet, which has been the dream of Elon Musk right from the inaugural of his space exploration company is the next target of the Astrolab along with SpaceX.
The team is expecting to send humans to Mars as well as the Moon. The missions and goals of this company are far away from ours. Let’s see when this comes true.
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