UK's Moon-walking space spider to lead landmark lunar mission

A four-legged rover is set to walk on the surface of the Moon this year

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A diminutive space spider will carry Britain's hopes of completing its maiden rover mission to the Moon this year.

Private company Spacebit has built a 1.5-kilogram rover called Asagumo, a four-legged robot that will be able to “walk” on the lunar surface.

It will be the first of three Moon missions the company hopes to launch this decade, including a “mother rover” with wheels and then a swarm of Asagumo robots that would explore the lunar lava caves.

“The first mission is a technology testing and demonstration,” Pavlo Tanasyuk, Spacebit’s founder, told The National.

“The primary objective for the first mission is to travel 10 metres, however we hope to move for at least 100 metres.

“Yet, even 10 will mean that the mission is successful. The on-surface phase of the first mission will last for one lunar day — 14 Earth days.”

The rover is relying on a US-built spacecraft called Peregrine, built by private company Astrobotic, to safely land on the Moon.

The mission will be launched into space on United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket.

The launch was already delayed once in 2021, and it is hoped it will take place this year but that will depend on whether the rocket is ready in time.

“There is a chance that our robot will survive the lunar night. In that case, the mission will be extended and the robot will walk a longer distance,” Mr Tanasyuk said.

“That, however, also depends on whether the Astrobotic’s lander will survive the lunar night.

A step closer to life on the Moon

“In our first Asagumo mission, we are going to be transmitting information through the lander. If the lander does not survive, we will be unable to obtain information on whether our rover survived.

“Unlike the following missions where we’ll be transmitting and obtaining information through our Mother rover.”

The ultimate goal of the Asagumo rover missions is to explore lunar lava caves formed by volcanic activity billions of years ago.

It is believed that these caves could possibly be used a human base, sheltering humans from radiation, unstable temperatures and meteoroids.

Lava caves on the Moon are up to 1,000 metres deep and are much larger than those found on Earth, such as caves in Australia and Hawaii.

The Asagumo rover will use its temperature and radiation sensors and multispectral camera to measure charged particles, radiation doses and lunar surface temperatures.

“Thanks to Spacebit, the UK might become the first ever state to explore the lunar lava tubes and make an indeed significant step towards humanity living on the lunar surface,” Mr Tanasyuk said.

“Such projects, although carried out by privately-held companies, build the image of the whole nation. And we’re extremely proud and pleased to be one of the drivers.

“We believe our example will help the UK's space sector to attract more investment, engage young prominent professionals, and make the UK one of the world’s leading space economies.”

UK space sector on the rise

The UK’s space sector is picking up momentum after a new national space strategy was launched last year to position Britain as a top space nation.

This includes investing an additional £1.4 billion ($1.88bn) into developing new capabilities, as well as supporting space businesses.

Under the new strategy, the government plans to become the top provider of commercial small satellite launches in Europe by 2030.

“As we enter an exciting new space age, we have bold ambitions for the UK to be at the vanguard of this industry in our role as a science superpower,” said George Freeman, the UK’s science and innovation minister, when the strategy was announced in 2021.

“Whether that’s launching the first satellite from British soil or leading major international space missions to help combat climate change.”

It is hoped that small satellites will be launched from a UK spaceport for the first sometime time this year.

They would be carried into orbit from Scotland’s Sutherland vertical launch site, aboard the Prime rocket being built by UK start-up company Orbex.

Upcoming spaceports in Scotland — in pictures

Updated: February 01, 2022, 12:47 PM