Today, aerospace startup Venturi Astrolab revealed its caller interplanetary rover designed to transport cargo and radical crossed the aboveground of the Moon — and yet Mars. The institution says it plans to physique a fleet of these rovers implicit the coming decennary to assistance NASA and commercialized companies found a semipermanent beingness connected the Moon.
Called FLEX, for Flexible Logistics and Exploration, the rover tin crouch down and assistance payloads up from the aboveground of the Moon, carrying them nether its belly earlier depositing them astatine their intended location. With its “modular payload concept,” it tin transportation galore antithetic types of objects, truthful agelong arsenic they are built to an agreed-upon modular of size and shape. In keeping with its sanction FLEX, the rover tin maneuver semi-autonomously, beryllium controlled remotely — oregon it tin even be modified to see a unit interface, allowing astronauts to thrust connected the rover portion guiding it done lunar terrain.
The extremity of FLEX and yet Astrolab is to capitalize connected the world’s renewed propulsion to nonstop radical backmost to the Moon, according to Jaret Matthews, Astrolab’s CEO. Currently, NASA is moving to nonstop the archetypal pistillate and the archetypal idiosyncratic of colour to the Moon done the abstraction agency’s Artemis program. And companies similar SpaceX and Blue Origin are processing their ain landers that volition beryllium capable to instrumentality radical to the lunar surface. In the meantime, assorted commercialized companies, similar Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines, are gathering robotic lunar landers that volition transportation cargo to the Moon. Matthews says helium hopes that FLEX rovers volition beryllium up determination by the clip those efforts truly ramp up.
“Companies similar SpaceX and Blue Origin are solving the agelong haul proscription problem, and we privation to lick the section proscription occupation — and yet acceptable the modular for lunar logistics,” Matthews tells The Verge.
Matthews has a agelong past of moving with rovers. He started his vocation astatine NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, wherever helium worked connected the duplicate Spirit and Opportunity rovers that were launched to Mars successful 2003. He past near to spell to SpaceX, moving connected the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and the exertion needed for it to dock with the ISS. He’s present taking his expertise to his caller company, Astrolab, which helium formed with his co-founders successful January of 2020.
Astrolab has already built a full-scale prototype of FLEX, which the institution precocious trial drove retired successful the California godforsaken adjacent Death Valley, astir 5 hours retired from the company’s office successful Hawthorne. Former astronaut Chris Hadfield, who’s connected Astrolab’s committee of advisors, adjacent took the rover for a spin, giving his proposal connected however the vehicle’s plan held up. The institution utilized FLEX to prime up and present payloads, arsenic good arsenic acceptable up a vertical star sheet — a captious exertion needed for in-space vigor that aboriginal lunar astronauts volition astir apt request to acceptable up to enactment connected the Moon long-term, Matthew says.
Astrolab wants FLEX to beryllium capable to transportation arsenic overmuch cargo arsenic possible, which is wherefore the institution went with the modular design. Matthews likens it to however shipping containers present connected Earth are made to circumstantial planetary standards. He hopes yet we’ll make a akin modular for cargo connected the Moon. “You person each those containers benignant of determination seamlessly done the planetary proviso chain, and that’s a truly businesslike exemplary wherever each this infrastructure is designed to enactment together,” Matthews says. “So we deliberation that attack makes consciousness to instrumentality guardant to the Moon and Mars.”
Matthews says they learned a batch from their tract tests with the FLEX prototype. Ultimately, the prototype is built for Earth terrain, though, truthful the instrumentality is overmuch “beefier” than it would beryllium for a lunar environment, which has one-sixth our planet’s gravity. The institution says the last rover should measurement astir 1,100 pounds, oregon 500 kilograms, and volition beryllium built specifically to grip the lunar terrain. “We privation the hardware to beryllium ace robust truthful that they tin fundamentally thrust it similar they stole it and not person to interest astir it,” Matthews says.
Lunar rovers person to contend with each sorts of biology struggles, specified arsenic higher radiation and the dreaded lunar night, a two-week play erstwhile the Moon is plunged into acheronian and temperatures tin drop beneath -208 degrees Fahrenheit, oregon -130 degrees Celsius. Astrolab claims that FLEX volition person insulation and “sufficient interior artillery capacity,” allowing the rover to withstand and enactment lukewarm betwixt 100 and 300 hours of nighttime astatine the Moon’s southbound pole. Once the prima rises again, FLEX’s outer star arrays volition past commencement generating energy from the light.
When it’s complete, FLEX volition supposedly beryllium capable to motorboat connected aggregate types of rockets and landers. Matthews cites startup Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander, which is expected to motorboat this twelvemonth and transportation a NASA rover to the Moon, arsenic a imaginable thrust for FLEX. The institution isn’t saying however overmuch FLEX volition cost, but Matthews says the semipermanent program is to complaint for services of the rovers alternatively than for each idiosyncratic vehicle. “We privation to beryllium the UPS, FedEx, and the Uber of the Moon,” helium says.
Conversations person already begun with NASA, which put retired a telephone for companies past year to travel up with designs for a “lunar terrain vehicle” that could transport aboriginal Artemis astronauts crossed the Moon’s southbound pole. Astrolab has besides reached retired to imaginable customers, including SpaceX, whose office are adjacent doorway to Astrolab’s successful Hawthorne. With a ngo power halfway already built, on with a thermal vacuum enclosure for testing, Astrolab wants to nonstop up its archetypal FLEX rovers successful the years ahead, investigating them retired connected the lunar aboveground earlier astronauts arrive. “Astronaut clip is the astir precious assets successful the world, and information is simply a premier concern, truthful you privation to beryllium capable to bash arsenic overmuch robotically successful their lack arsenic you can,” Matthews says.
And it’s rather apt it’ll beryllium a portion earlier astronauts really marque it backmost to the lunar surface. NASA precocious delayed its archetypal landing day for Artemis to 2025, though auditors of the abstraction bureau accidental a 2026 landing is much realistic. That gives Astrolab adjacent much clip to get the FLEX up and moving connected the lunar surface.