Mexico to send mini-robots to Moon for soil exploration in scientific first
The mission is poised to launch on a United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket and would be the first American spacecraft to land on the moon in nearly 50 years
Mexico will launch its first mission of sending autonomous mini-robots to the Moon for soil exploration in a scientific first.
Gustavo Medina Tanco, head of the space instrumentation laboratory at the National Autonomous University of Mexico's Institute for Nuclear Sciences (UNAM), said the first-of-its-kind scientific mission is a part of the Colmena project, that envisions the two-wheeled bots scrambling across the lunar surface while taking sophisticated measurements.
"Taking nature as an example, Colmena will show that very small robots can operate both as researchers and miners when coordinated," he said.
The mission is poised to launch on a United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket and would be the first American spacecraft to land on the moon in nearly 50 years.
"This is a small mission where we'll test the concept, and afterwards we'll undertake other missions, first to the moon and then on to asteroids," said Gustavo Medina Tanco, a UNAM scientist who heads the Colmena project, which means "beehive" in Spanish.
Medina Tanco explained that the bots, made of stainless steel, titanium alloys, and space-grade aluminum, are equipped to gather lunar minerals that could be useful in future space mining.
The first mission of the Colmena project involves five robots weighing less than 0.1 pounds each, with a diametre of 4.7 inches.
A distinctive feature of these mini-robots is the positioning of all electronic devices in 0.8 inches directly above the soil. They are expected to independently perform coordinated functions and work on the surfaces of non-atmospheric space bodies, with the mission lasting about 13 terrestrial days or one lunar day.
The bots are scheduled to launch in June on Astrobotic's Peregrine lander, originally developed for Google's Lunar-X-Prize.
During their month-long mission, the nanorobots will take first-ever lunar plasma temperature, electromagnetic and regolith particle size measurements, according to an UNAM article on the project published earlier this month.
Medina Tanco expressed pride about the upcoming mission, which also included contributions from some 200 engineering, physics, math and chemistry students.
"No one has done this, nobody, not just in Mexico," he said.
"We can make a difference in the technology and for international cooperation that can then lead to important joint ventures to study the minerals or undertake other scientific exploration."
UNAM's Colmena project started its operation in 2016 aiming to study the potential of mini-robots working in space and the possibilities of their self-organization, as well as the potential of mining rare earth metals on asteroids.
(With inputs from agencies)