NASA and its Australian equivalent have agreed to collaborate on a prospective robotic lander mission, with Australia providing a tiny rover as portion of a technology demonstration. As part of the NASA-steered Artemis lunar exploration initiative, Australia will donate a rover that is going to be included on the commercial lunar lander project no earlier than 2026, according to NASA as well as the Australian Space Agency.
The 20-kilogram rover will gather up lunar regolith as well as return it to lander, where it will be deposited in a NASA in situ resource utilization (ISRU) experiment. The ISRU payload will subsequently try to extract oxygen from the regolith’s iron and silicon oxide components.
The rover is portion of the Australian Trailblazer initiative, which is the centerpiece of the government’s “Moon to Mars Initiative,” which was unveiled in 2019. Over the next five years, the Australian government will invest $150 million ($110 million) in the project, using technology that Australia has experience with, like mining and robotic activities, for lunar research.
“Australia is at the forefront of robotics technology and remote operations systems, which will be critical to establishing a long-term foothold on the moon and eventually assisting human exploration of Mars,” said Enrico Palermo, who works as the head of Australian Space Agency.
The Australian Space Agency and NASA haven’t revealed many details about this mission or the rover it’ll be part of. According to the Australian Space Agency, an “industry-led collaboration of Australian enterprises and scientific organizations” would create the “foundation services rover,” which will deliver services that could be the foundation of prospective permanent human outposts. The government stated that more information on the mission will be released later this year, and proposals will be solicited in early 2022.
Australia’s lunar exploration program is the result of a September 2019 deal with NASA, in which the government stated its intention to join in Artemis and pledged $150 million. In October 2020, Australia was one of the first nations to ratify the Artemis Accords.
Officials in Australia consider the space sector in general, and the lunar exploration effort in particular, as a way to expand the country’s economy and global influence. “This is a great chance for Australia to flourish in the global space sector,” Scott Morrison, Australian Prime Minister, stated in a statement, highlighting the government’s objective of increasing the Australian space sector valuation to about to $12 billion by the year 2030 and generating up to 20,000 jobs.