Astrolab’s Cool New Lunar Rover Will Help NASA Build A Base On The Moon
It has been a little over 50 years since the United States has put a person on the Moon, and in that time, we have sought to return. As such, a team at Venturi Astrolab, hereafter Astrolab, has been designing and developing a versatile lunar and planetary rover dubbed the "Flexible Logistics and Exploration (FLEX) rover." The hope is that with these developments, Astrolab will "provide the mobility required to support a sustained human presence on the Moon and Mars."
On Thursday, Astrolab announced the FLEX rover on its blog, stating that NASA and private industry are investing in Lunar landing for various projects coming soon. However, in the past, lunar rovers have been "bespoke and have been put into operation on a timescale of roughly once per decade," which is not well suited for evolving missions off Earth. Thus, Astrolab is developing FLEX, a multi-functional rover "designed around a modular payload interface that supports intermodal transportation (from lander to rover and back)."
With this, the Astrolab blog post reports that the rover has "unique commercial potential" stemming from "its novel mobility system architecture. This architecture subsequently "gives it the ability to pick up and deposit modular payloads in support of robotic science, exploration, logistics, site survey/preparation, construction, resource utilization, and other activities." This capability will allow FLEX to support a sustained presence on the Moon and other bodies in the solar system.
To this end, Jaret Matthews, founder and CEO of Astrolab, explained that "FLEX achieves a wide range of utility by being able to collect, transport, and deposit any payload that conforms to what will be a standard and open interface." Further, the rover features adaptive suspension, a robotic arm and remote science mast for remote control and scientific activities, and a deployable solar array for topping up batteries while on the go.
Though Astrolab talks a big game, it seems the company is actively working on its goals by putting wheels to dirt in the Mojave Desert with astronaut and engineer Chris Hadfield. You can see what this new rover would look like in the video above, and it is quite the departure from rovers of yore. However, Hadfield explained that "As we transition from the Apollo era, which was focused on pure exploration, to now, where people will be living for longer periods on the Moon, the equipment needs to change." He continued, stating that "we don't just need to get people from one place to another, but we need to move hardware, cargo, life support equipment and more."
Ultimately, with the privatization of space travel and companies like Astrolab and SpaceX taking up the mantle, we are in the prime time for more cost-efficient extraterrestrial expansion. Perhaps one day, we will have a colony on the Moon to show for Astrolab's efforts; but until then, let us know what you think of this rover in the comments below.