Although various public and private space agencies are focused primarily on Mars and on how to get there as soon as possible in the current space race, the European Space Agency (ESA) is also working on a closer goal: exploring Moon Caves.
ESA has begun testing the autonomous robot DAEDALUS (Descent and Exploration in the Deep Autonomy of the Moon’s Underground Structures), designed to explore the depths of lunar caves and underground lava tubes on the Moon or other extraterrestrial domains, i.e. Asteroids or planets, where they are high, need autonomy.
The ball-shaped probe was designed by a team coordinated by Germany’s Julius-Maximilians-Würzburg University (JMU), and is being evaluated by ESA’s concurrent design facility as part of a larger study of lunar cave mission concepts.
According to the agency, lunar orbits have already mapped several deep pits on the surface of the Moon, which is interesting for the scientific community. The sites have not yet been explored and are thought to offer access to intact lunar material – perhaps even water ice deposits.
In addition, the organization points out that caves could also become habitats for lunar settlers, offering a natural shield against radiation, micrometeorites and extreme surface temperatures.
DAEDALUS is a 46 cm diameter spherical robot that would have a submersible stereoscopic camera, a lidar system ‘laser radar’ for 3D mapping of the cave interior, temperature sensors and a radiation dosimeter. The robotic sphere also has outstretched arms that help remove obstacles and examine rock properties.
It will descend into the mouth of the cave on a long belt and then disconnect to fall off autonomously on its own. The hanging pendant would then double as a Wi-Fi receiver, allowing DAEDALUS to transmit its findings from the pit.
“The design is guided by the requirement to observe the environment in full 360 degrees and the need to protect the interior from the harsh lunar environment,”Explains Dorit Borrmann from the DAEDALUS team. “With cameras that act as a stereo vision system and laser distance measurements, the ball detects obstacles during the descent and moves independently upon reaching the bottom of the pit.“
For now, there is no information on when we could see robots like DAEDALUS rolling around the moon. If it happens, it will probably take several years for the robots to be ready for use there.