The European Space Agency (ESA) is developing a versatile lunar rover system that can perform different missions with different objectives. The rover is based on a modular approach that allows it to adapt to different payloads and terrains.
The rover system is called the European Moon Rover System (EMRS) and its goal is to “develop a versatile surface mobility solution for future lunar missions,” according to a paper published on arXiv.org. The rover will serve four upcoming ESA missions: the Polar Explorer (PE), In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), Astrophysics Lunar Observatory (ALO) and Lunar Geological Exploration Mission (LGEM).
Each of these missions has specific requirements, such as:
- Placing scientific instruments at the lunar south pole
- Excavating and transporting over 200 kg of regolith
- Building an astrophysical observatory on the far side of the Moon
- Studying the Moon’s volcanic history
The rover system will use modularity to meet each goal rather than a completely different rover. Modularity has obvious benefits, such as:
- Reducing development time and cost
- Increasing flexibility and redundancy
- Enabling payload swapping and reconfiguration
The Adaptable Wheels for Exploration (AWE)
One of the key features of the rover system is its locomotion and mobility. The rover will rely on Adaptable Wheels for Exploration (AWE) designed by Hellenic Technology of Robotics (HTR). These wheels are remarkably flexible and will provide enough traction for the challenging lunar surface conditions and regolith.
The wheels have caterpillar-style tracks on top of springs and a fixed internal hub. They can adjust their shape and diameter according to the terrain and the load. They are also built with materials that can handle the wild temperature swings on the lunar surface, which can range from -173°C to 127°C.
The wheels have been tested on a rover prototype in a simulated lunar environment. The tests showed that the wheels can cope with slopes, craters, rocks and sand. The wheels can also be used as tools for digging, pushing and pulling.
The Modular Payloads and Autonomy
The rover system will also have modular payloads that can be attached or detached depending on the mission. The payloads will include scientific instruments, cameras, sensors, manipulators, drills, scoops, hoppers and bulldozer blades. The payloads will be connected to the rover’s main body through a standard interface that allows power and data transfer.
The rover will also have onboard autonomy that will enable it to navigate and operate in the harsh and remote lunar environment. The rover will use a combination of sensors, cameras, lidars, radars and software to perceive its surroundings, plan its actions, execute its tasks and communicate with the ground station.
The rover’s autonomy will also allow it to cooperate with other rovers or astronauts in a collaborative manner. For example, the rover could assist an astronaut in setting up a lunar base or performing scientific experiments.
The Future of Lunar Exploration
The rover system is part of ESA’s vision for the future of lunar exploration. ESA aims to establish a sustainable and long-term presence on the Moon, in partnership with other space agencies and private entities. The Moon is seen as a stepping stone for further exploration of the solar system, as well as a source of scientific and economic opportunities.
The rover system is expected to be ready for launch in the late 2020s or early 2030s. The rover will demonstrate its capabilities and versatility on the lunar surface, paving the way for more ambitious and diverse missions in the future.