If you happen to have an excellent idea for a tiny exploratory robot, then NASA will want your help. The space agency wants the public to submit their designs for some mini rovers, which can be used to explore the Moon. This will be part of the Artemis project, and will also help to establish a long-term moon base, part of the “Honey, and I Shrunk the NASA Payload” challenge.
The challenge website shows: “As human space exploration evolves toward a permanent presence on the lunar surface, In situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) will become increasingly important. Resupply missions are very expensive. We need to develop practical and affordable ways to identify and use lunar resources so that our astronaut crews can become more independent of Earth.”
One of the critical parts of NASA’s lunar strategy is to find the resources on the Moon that people can use. Future astronauts have to be able to find and collect lunar resources and then put them into things that are essential for life, like water, breathable air, food, and drinks, or building materials for shelter, rocket fuels, and even more. And now rovers will do their jobs here. NASA is already working on a full-size rover, which is called Viper, and which will search for water on the Moon. But a full-sized rover is massive and large and will need a lot of power to operate. Those smaller rovers that are around the size of a bar of soap will be able to perform the name exploration functions, but, of course, with lower requirements.
Sabah Bux, from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, stated that the smaller payloads are actually game-changers and that they will allow them to develop technologies to do science on smaller, mobile platforms.
NASA is also interested in small rovers for performing science operations, which could help support a sustained human presence on the Moon.
The challenge is as follows: to design a rover with the maximum external dimensions of 100mm by 100mm by 50mm. After the design phase, there will be new challenges for prototyping, testing, and the creation of these rovers. For the first design there is a prize in money worth $160,000, money which will be split across two categories:
Rovers for locating lunar resources
Rovers for exploring the lunar environment.