Britain is to launch a robotic ‘space spider’ to the Moon in 2021, the first time a walking rover has been sent to explore a distant world.
The little probe – called Asagumo – has been designed by London-based robotics experts Spacebit, and is scheduled to hitch a ride to the lunar surface with Nasa next summer.
It will mark the first time a British rover has gone to the Moon, and engineers at Spacebit chose legs instead of wheels so that it can pick its way over bumpy terrain, and crawl through underground lava tubes to see if they could be habitable for humans.
Many experts now believe that lava tubes – tunnel-like chambers in the rock created by rivers of lava billions of years ago – could provide natural shelters and so are a good place to set up the first colonies.
The Moon is a treacherous environment for astronauts, because temperatures can drop to below -274F (-170C) during the lunar night, and the surface is bombarded by solar radiation and micro-meteorites.
Although the largest lava tubes on Earth only reach around 60ft wide, on the Moon they can be hundreds of feet wide and could be sealed to contain breathable air.
The rocky roof also provides a ready-made shield against harmful radiation and the temperature inside falls to just -4F to -22 (-20C to -30C), so the tubes could be heated to a comfortable level.
One tube, discovered in the Marius Hills region is at least 1,000 yards wide and tall, and could house small cities. There may be a large underground network, from when volcanic activity was rife on the Moon.
Spacebit CEO Pavlo Tanasyuk said designing a rover with legs was crucial to finding out if lava tubes are useful for habitation.