Humans have aspired to colonize the Moon for centuries, but the celestial body has an extremely hostile environment.
The safest places for settlers might be below the moon’s surface.
The European Space Agency (ESA) believes moon caves could provide shelter from radiation, micrometeorites and extreme temperatures – and possibly even access to water ice deposits.
The agency is currently testing an autonomous robot that it hopes will offer new information about conditions in the caves.
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Named DAEDALUS, the 18-inch sphere would be lowered into a cave mouth from a long tether, then use its own power to roll. The tether would also serve as a Wi-Fi receiver that sends back the data collected by the probe.
Cameras and sensors installed on DAEDALUS would then make it possible to map the interior of the cave, study the environment and search for ice deposits.
Dorit Borrmann, a member of the DAEDALUS team, said the robot will need to be robust to survive on the Moon:
The design is driven by the requirement to observe the surroundings at 360 degrees and the need to protect the interior from the harsh lunar environment. With the cameras acting as a stereo vision system and laser distance measurements, the sphere detects obstacles during descent and navigates autonomously upon reaching the pit floor.
The device is being developed by a team from the University of Würzburg, as part of an ESA study on the exploration of moon caves.
Ultimately, the agency hopes to find resources and locations that could bring us closer to building a human settlement on the Moon.
With Mars getting all the attention these days, it’s nice to see that our closest neighbor in space hasn’t been forgotten.
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Published March 24, 2021 – 21:01 UTC