The UK is planning to become the fourth successful nation to ever soft-land a space asset on the lunar surface with a unique rover that will explore possible human settlements.
Spacebit, a London-based company, is the brains behind the lunar rover, will be teaming up with Astrobotic, which will carry the rover in its Peregrine moon lander. Both rover and lander will launch aboard United Launch Alliance’s brand new Vulcan Centaur rocket.
Notably, the mission will be made up of firsts for everyone involved. Vulcan Centaur is the successor to ULA’s Atlas V rocket, which has launched many high-profile spacecraft over the years and has been developing the next-gen Vulcan since 2014. Meanwhile, it will also be the same for Astrobotic and Spacebit, where a UK-built craft will be exploring space.
Meanwhile, those are not the only interesting and unique details of the mission. Spacebit’s 2.2-lb. (1 kilogram) lander will also be the first four-legged robot to explore the lunar surface. In the past, scientists and engineers have opted to use wheeled rovers to examine the relatively unknown worlds in space.
Representatives of both companies announced Astrobotic’s Peregrine moon lander would deliver the four-legged rover in July of 2021.
“We could not be more excited to fly this mission with Astrobotic,” Spacebit CEO Pavlo Tanasyuk said in a statement late last month. “This mission will result in the first payload from the UK to reach the moon surface and mark the beginning of a new era in commercial space exploration for Britain.”
According to Spacebit, the rover will move at least 33 feet (10 meters) on the lunar surface from which it will land on and beam high-definition video and other data back to Earth within the 10 Earth days that it will be spending on the Moon.
Mainly, Spacebit hopes that the four-legged rover will be able to explore the lunar subsurface and near subsurface where lava tubes are thought to be found. The data will help researchers determine suitable locations for human settlement.
Spacebit has other ambitions as well, as its website makes clear: “Our main goal is to democratize access to space by tokenizing all of our commercial space missions around the Earth, the moon and beyond. By decentralizing our missions, we also enable citizens to directly take part in or benefit from space programs.”
ULA’s Vulcan Centaur also won’t be just delivering Spacebit’s walking rover and Astrobotic’s lander to the moon. Notably, the rover is part of the total 30 payloads that Peregrine will carry to the lunar surface for a variety of customers. Fourteen of those payloads are from NASA, which granted Astrobotic a $79.5 million award for the mission this past May via the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, or CLPS.
Significantly, if all proves successful, the upcoming commercial landings will also set another historical landmark in space exploration. To date, successful moon landings have been achieved by three countries, namely the space agencies of the United States, Russia, and China.
Two other entities attempted robotic lunar landings this year, but both were unsuccessful. Israel’s SpaceIL tried to land the first private moon mission this past April, and India’s Chandrayaan-2 lander attempted a touchdown near the lunar south pole last month but unfortunately lost contact with its rover moments before it landed. On the brighter side, the Chandrayaan-2 mission includes a moon orbiter, which is still functional and continues to send data back to Earth.