Japan to create a robotic moonbase

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and Japan has taken steps to set up a lunar base there by 2030 with the aid of technology it has both pioneered and perfected: robots.

While the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) had been working with other countries such as the United States and Russia to build a new space station to orbit the moon by 2022, it has also been quietly busy trying to create the first moon base with the help of autonomous machines that will be remotely controlled from Earth.

Work on the project began in 2016 with a simple four step plan: select the most suitable site, excavate to the required depth, install modules that can sustain life, and then shield it with the excavated moondust, or regolith, to protect from radiation and meteoroid strikes.

The concept is being tested on a simulation site in Japan by a seven ton earth mover that has been modified to be remote controlled. It will have the ability to survey and measure with a tool similar to the GPS that we use on Earth, and to coordinate with other machines both on Earth and on the moon for efficiency. It will even be able to compensate for a communication delay of up to 8 seconds since the moon is 239,000 miles or 384,000 kilometers away.

The results have been encouraging enough for the Japanese automaker Toyota to consider developing a lunar vehicle powered by fuel cells that will give it a range of over 6,200 miles or 10,000 kilometers. Other businesses are jockeying to display billboards on the surface nearby to flag their economic investment in the enterprise. It looks like we may see a bit of Shibuya Crossing on the Moon one day soon.