The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency plans to explore the moon’s surface with a baseball-sized robotic ball by 2022. With the ball, it will take pictures of the moon and collect more information about caustic moon dust.
The transformable lunar robot, as JAXA calls the ball, is being developed by JAXA, the company Tomy, Sony and Doshisha University. Tomy is responsible for the miniature technology, Sony for the control and the university will process the data from the robot. The robot will be sent to the moon in 2022 with the commercial space agency ispace.
JAXA wants to deploy the robot, which is equipped with a camera and can fold out, on the moon where it can roll around autonomously to collect more information about the regolith, the loose sandy top layer that lies on the surface of the moon. The robot will collect information about the behavior of the regolith and it will take pictures of the moon’s surface and send it back to Earth via ispace’s lunar lander.
The reason Japan uses a robotic ball is that the regolith causes problems for a lunar rover, because the substance is corrosive and corrodes material. The substance is also harmful to humans. Before sending an autonomous rover to the moon, Japan wants to use the robotic ball to learn more about the moon’s surface and about the regolith. The ball measures approximately 80mm in circumference before it is unfolded and weighs approximately 250 grams. Arriving on the moon, the robot unfolds.
The ball will go on the first lunar journey of the company ispace, in partnership with JAXA. The company is currently working on a lunar lander, Hakuto-R. The robot is not the first ball-forming robot that the Japanese launch. Japan previously developed Int-Ball, a camera drone that aboard the ISS in 2017.