Wherever we may rove

Published October 9, 2022

Text in white reading ‘Moon’ with an icon of a space rover in the second O

We live in a world of reduce, reuse, recycle, and that can be difficult even when you’re talking about quite small household objects. It gets even harder when you start thinking about very niche, very complex robots built for a specific purpose. Of course my eye was attracted to this story, about a potential Mars rover that’s ’looking for a new job.’

The headline is obviously leaning in to the idea that we humanise robots a bit too much but the story behind the title is still intriguing. A Mars rover was developed by a team in the UK only to no longer be required by Nasa and Esa, who have gone in a different direction for rock retrieval.

What do you do with a fully functioning retrieval robot that no longer has a destination to go to? It’s ok if things are retired having already made a name for themselves - they can look nice in a museum or sit fondly in some private collector’s garage, but here we’re talking tech that has yet to prove itself and actually could prove very useful.

Instead of Mars, the team are refocusing on the Moon, particularly as Artemis is in the works (hurricanes pending) and that is the intermediate focus of many space missions. The rover can do more than just pick up rocks, it can be used anywhere on the surface of a planet to help with moving things around without risking astronauts on an EVA. But I love this quote from the team who clarify you can’t just swap one planet for another:

The surface of Mars and the surface of the Moon are very different. The terrain is different, and the dust is different. The dust on the Moon is very abrasive and sticky. One major consideration is the thermal environment. A Mars rover gets rid of heat in a different way to one on the Moon. And things like the solar cells - Mars is obviously a lot further away from the Sun, so the whole power system would have to be designed differently to work on the Moon.

There’s no real answers in this dilemma - the team built the thing and now the thing is no longer needed so it’s now fully in the reduce, reuse, recycle circle but which will it end up being? Watch this space!

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