The movement methods for robotic explorers of other worlds were as varied as the worlds themselves. Some missions were simple landers, some rovers, and now there was even a helicopter ride on Mars. But there is one unexplored hybrid type of motion that will soon come to a moon near you – hopping. NASA has just approved an additional $ 41.6 million to help develop a hopping lunar lander that will explore the interior of craters that are permanently in shadow.
The mission, known as the Micro-Nova, was awarded under NASA’s $ 370 million tipping point technology contract for the development of milestone-based new technologies. The $ 41.6 million went to Intuitive Machines, a Texas-based company that specializes in developing autonomous systems for drones and other exploration technologies. To be clear – the “hopping” of the Micro-Nova is actually a control flight with engines and not the more biological form of hopping that insects perform on earth. The company won’t be working on the project alone – it recruited scientists from Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration.
Intuitive Machines video about the Micro-Nova Hopper
Credit – Intuitive Machines YouTube Channel
These specialists will help define what Micro-Nova will carry as part of its 1kg payload. Most likely, cameras will be used to look into areas that no one has ever seen before. The reason Micro-Nova uses its unique mobility technology is to look into “permanently shaded regions” (PSRs) of the moon. Rovers would not be able to descend into the craters, and helicopters would not work with the moon’s lack of atmosphere. Hence, a hopper is the best choice for reaching these difficult environments.
Not only are they difficult because they’re hard to get to – they’re hard to watch and exceptionally cold. Even if the micro-nova is in the crater, it will only be able to take full color spectrum images of its immediate surroundings, but it should be able to take black and white images of a wider swath of the entire crater. All of the information it can gather is at least better than the complete lack that is currently available.
Conceptual representation of permanently shadowed, flat ice craters near the southern lunar pole.
Photo credit: UCLA / NASA
Cold is a completely different problem, with temperatures dropping to 40 to 80 Kelvin (-388 ° to -316 ° F) in these permanently dark areas. Most electronic devices don’t work at these temperatures, and even the materials themselves would fail if they weren’t specifically designed to withstand these temperatures.
That’s a lot to be expected from a funnel that measures only 76.2 inches on one side. But with the moon’s tiny gravity and the hopper’s impressive jumping ability, it should be able to complete its mission when it is dropped off by a Nova-C lander near the South Pole in December 2022.
ASU – NASA funds Hopper to explore polar craters on the moon
The Science Times – NASA gives over $ 41 million in funds to lunar hoppers to orbit the lunar surface, takes first pictures in craters
Intuitive Machines – Intuitive Machines and NASA sign contract for spacecraft with extreme lunar mobility
NASA – 2020 NASA tipping point selection
Artist’s impression of the Micro-Nova funnel and its Nova-C landing craft deployed on the moon.
Credit – Intuitive Machines