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Lunar hopper instead of rovers

Engineers from Astronika are working on an innovative project – a lunar hopper, which potentially could replace rovers in the exploration of the Moon. The hopper is a robotic vehicle being developed under ESA – the European Space Agency’s commission. This small device, weighing less than 10 kilograms, can be used to explore previously inaccessible surfaces, such as canyons, cliffs, or mountainous terrain.

The Moon practically lacks an atmosphere or a magnetic field. The lunar surface is currently changing mainly due to meteor and comet bombardment, solar wind, and cosmic radiation. There is also seismic activity caused by monthly tidal interactions with Earth, residual tectonic activity, sporadic meteor impacts, and cyclic changes in surface rock temperatures. Dust constantly present on the lunar surface poses an additional challenge. It settles on mechanical components, causing surface abrasion and wear of moving parts. The dominant source of airborne dust so far has been the interaction of rovers with the soil. As shown in video footage from the Apollo 17 mission, the amount of dust sprayed by the wheels was significant, reaching heights of over two meters. In future lunar explorations, human activity, mining operations, and in-situ resource utilization will also contribute to dust generation. Because the lunar atmosphere is practically a vacuum, suspended particles do not remain airborne but quickly return to the surface, each particle following a ballistic trajectory.

Therefore, the use of the hopper seems particularly promising, as potentially the amount of generated dust may be significantly reduced, and consequently, equipment wear may progress more slowly. The steep crater walls, large boulders, or cliffs are currently often insurmountable obstacles for rovers but could potentially be “hopped over” by Astronika’s invention, thus allowing scientists access to previously undiscovered areas. One of the most desirable exploration sites on the Moon is the southern polar region, on the rim of Shackleton Crater. Long-distance excursions in these areas require equipment to traverse steep crater walls composed of friable rock.

Considering the planned missions to the Moon in the upcoming years, a positive decision from ESA seems very likely. What sets the project apart from the competition is the high jumping energy enabling movement on the Moon, lower production costs, and lower energy requirements.

Our solution utilizes the concept of pushing off the surface using lightweight legs, just like a grasshopper does. Once designed for lunar gravity, it is easily scalable to smaller gravities as well. Our design is based on simplicity and durability, with very low power consumption,” said Łukasz Wiśniewski, the project manager.

The final design of the hopper is not yet confirmed, it will be determined in the subsequent phases of the project. Nevertheless, the project already offers great hope for the development of the space sector in Poland and contributes to the exploration of Earth’s natural satellite.

Fot. Unsplash

[1], Polacy budują skoczka księżycowego i mają szansę zmienić sposób eksploracji ciał niebieskich!, [access 29.03.2024]

[2], W Polsce powstaje skoczek księżycowy, który może zastąpić łaziki [access 29.03.2024]

[3], Łazik to już przeżytek. Sprzęt polskich inżynierów będzie skakać po Księżycu, author Aneta Tomczyk, [access 29.03.2024]

[4], 2005, Exploration Rover Concepts and Development Challenges, authors James J. Zakrajsek, David B. McKissock, Jeffrey M. Woytach, June F. Zakrajsek, Fred B. Oswald, Kelly J. McEntire, Gerald M. Hill, Phillip Abel, Dennis J. Eichenberg, Thomas W. Goodnight, [access 29.03.2024]

Paula Śnieć
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Paula Śnieć

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