Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 6 December 2019

'Spider rover' to be tested in UAE before looking for where we'll live on the Moon

The emirate's desert terrain is a simulation for the lunar environment the Spider Moon Rover will navigate

A space rover on a mission to find habitable places for humans on the Moon will undergo few final tests in the Abu Dhabi desert next spring.

The Spider Moon Rover will undergo about a week of testing in the UAE capital, where the large swings in temperature from the day's heat to the relative cool at night, as well as the top surface layer of fine-grain sand, will get as close to mimicking the Moon's environment as possible for research.

Spacebit, the London company behind the rover, announced at the Dubai Airshow on Monday that the world's smallest moon explorer is scheduled to carry out test runs in the UAE, ahead of its launch to the moon in 2021.

Humans need a tremendous amount of shielding to be safe on the Moon, otherwise they'll get cancer. By going below the surface you have the natural shielding

Charles Lauer, Spacebit

While the exact site location has not been revealed, Spacebit said the mountains of Jebel Hafeet in Al Ain could be another ideal spot as the area’s "caves and underground ravines" are close in structure to the lava tubes beneath the Moon's surface.

These tunnels on the Moon, first discovered by Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency in 2017, are believed to extend many kilometres and are very wide and tall. These characteristics make the tunnels the most suitable potential places for humans to live on the Moon, according to Spacebit.

"Humans need a tremendous amount of shielding to be safe on the Moon, otherwise they'll get cancer. By going below the surface you have the natural shielding, a more benign temperature environment and a safe radiation environment," chief business development officer Charles Lauer told The National.

SPACEBIT-LUNAR-ROVER
SPACEBIT-LUNAR-ROVER

"We know where the [lava tube] holes are but no one has ever been in there."

The rover, the first of its kind to have legs instead of wheels, mimics the motions of a spider – with four legs instead of eight. Spiders are comfortable in caves, and it is expected that Spacebit's arachnid-inspired rovers will have more success than the rovers on wheels which have been exploring on the Moon.

"It'll be in its natural environment," said Spacebit founder Pavlo Tanasyuk.

While a lunar landing is Earth's closest extraterrestrial destination, Moon missions are still extremely difficult. Already this year, India and Israel have had failed rover missions. If the UK company succeeds, it will join China, Russia and the US in successfully landing a rover on the Moon.

Spacebit is a privately funded company. Mr Tanasyuk had sold a payment technology company in 2015 for an undisclosed sum, allowing him to become, he said, "a little like Elon Musk for Europe".

Exploring space was a childhood dream for him.

Mr Tanasyuk's company aims to send a lunar lander, developed with Ukraine's Yuzhnoye and dubbed the Lunar Lander-Hopper, to the Moon in the next two to three years.

What sets the Spacebit Lunar Lander-Hopper apart from other designs is that it can take off and land on another part of the Moon multiple times, rather than stay grounded where it lands, allowing for wider surface exploration. It can carry up to eight of Spacebit's spider rovers.

The multi-destination lunar lander will be designed to deliver 150 kilograms or more of payload - research equipment - to one landing point or 50kg or more of payload to up to three remote landing points on the lunar surface, with a distance of up to 20km, according to Spacebit.

Each kilogram of equipment - such as a satellite or camera - will cost Spacebit customers as much as $1 million (Dh3.67m) to load onto the lunar lander.

Spacebit is displaying its technology at the Dubai Airshow.

Updated: November 24, 2019 09:44 AM

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