One of the darkest places in the universe could be explored for the first time. The craters at high latitudes on the Moon! In permanent shadow, these craters don’t allow for traditional solar powered rovers. But a new design to use lasers instead could pave the way for new discoveries from this region. The laser-powered rover could find craters rich in water ice and precious minerals.
Why is it important?
Sunlight cannot enter these craters, because they are near the poles, so their edges cast long shadows. It’s thought that they can be in darkness for billions of years at a time. But if water ice can be definitively found there, it would be a huge benefit to lunar colonisation. Any future astronauts who stay on the Moon for any length of time will need considerable resources. Not only will it provide drinking and washing water, but also oxygen for breathing and hydrogen rocket fuel.
How does it work?
Ground-based systems that keep drones in the air were the inspiration for the new design, funded by ESA’s Discovery & Preparation programme. It works by harnessing power via an infrared laser, emitted from the landing site. A solar-powered lander could then keep the laser trained on the rover, allowing it to travel into the shadowed regions whilst maintaining power.
The new study even planned out where the mission would land, and the routes the rover could take. It needs to use gentle slopes, and stay within the lander’s line of sight. Without this, the laser cannot reach and the rover has no power! The lander and the rover might even be able to communicate using the laser.
Italy’s Leonardo company and Romania’s National Institute of Research and Development for Optoelectronics will prepare a complete mission plan for the 10-month PHILIP, ‘Powering rovers by High Intensity Laser Induction on Planets’, contract, as it’s officially known.