How Commercial Approaches Are Changing Lunar Exploration
When the Space Age began in the 1950s, much of the technology being sent into space was developed by the same companies heading the pioneering missions. For example, NASA built and launched Apollo, Voyager, and more. But developing those groundbreaking technologies and missions came with heavy costs and time commitments for the space agency. Fast-forward to the present day, NASA has big goals for their missions, including putting humans back on the moon by 2025. So in an effort to find ways to move more quickly and save money, NASA has turned to the commercial space industry to engineer the technology needed for their missions. In this unprecedented move, NASA’s use of service contracts and commercial companies opens them up to new, innovative items that could help their next set of planned lunar explorations go farther and discover more than previously imagined possible.
Launched in 2018 by NASA, the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program aims to subcontract and buy payload services between Earth and the lunar surface using fixed-priced contracts. With missions ranging from transporting scientific instruments to searching for ice deposits at the lunar south pole, CLPS is serving as an important pilot program for private-commercial collaborations. Currently, NASA is working with several commercial companies to deliver new technology to the lunar surface to prepare it for human missions, something it hasn’t done since 1969. Through this cooperation with commercial companies, NASA hopes to further their experiments and explorations, all while providing more frequent and inexpensive access to the moon.
However, NASA is not the only agency looking at commercial approaches to help expand lunar exploration. Recently, the European Space Agency issued two service contracts aimed at studying concepts for lunar satellite networks for communications and navigation. But their long-term goal is much bigger: to create a commercial system that could offer services to others, including a chance at interoperability. This interoperability would allow more private and public space companies the opportunity to work in conjunction, allowing them access to more information and lunar findings than they otherwise would alone.
Working toward exciting commercial-private partnerships, Motiv is developing some of the top robotic infrastructures to assist lunar explorations. Our Cold Operable Lunar Deployable Arm (COLDArm) is capable of operating in cryogenic environments – down to -180°C – without a heating source. This is in an effort to conserve energy, an extremely precious resource in space. Similar to Motiv’s Mars 2020 robotic arm, the COLDArm will have a scoop for evaluating regolith soil around the robot. Eventually, COLDArm will have a selection of instruments and tools which could automatically be replaced by the robotic arm. With such a variety of tools, the COLDArm presents unprecedented adaptability for lunar applications, including CLPS.
To further assist lunar missions, Motiv is engineering the dual-axis motor controller for (use in) Extreme Environments (DACEE). Similar to the COLDArm, DACEE is a robotic controller that’s capable of functioning at temperatures as cold as -180°C and as warm as 100°C, which will allow more efficient robotic missions to asteroids, comets, and (of course) our own planet’s Moon. Able to adjust lenses and antennas, open covers, tilt cameras, deploy hinges, and drive a robotic arm, DACEE’s adaptable applications mean great things for future private and commercial lunar missions.
With robotics like COLDArm, DACEE, and more in development, Motiv is setting itself up for collaborative success on the moon. Innovative features and flexible capabilities make Motiv robotics a likely component in NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services, future lunar missions, and any other explorations to planets throughout our solar system. By combining this sort of commercial ingenuity with the influence of private companies, the lunar program is shaping up to become a leading-edge mission, one that could open up other, bigger paths in space. So whether you’re headed to the moon or Mars, contact Motiv to see how commercial space can help you extend your reach.