The Australian Government has signed an agreement with NASA for a small Australian-made ‘foundation services rover’ to be included in a future mission.
The project to develop the rover will be funded through the Australian Space Agency’s Trailblazer program under the Australian Government’s $150 million Moon to Mars initiative. The scope of the foundation services mission draws on consultations with NASA. It also draws on the feedback received during the consultation on the Trailblazer program earlier this year.
An industry-led consortium of Australian businesses and research organisations, possibly supported by international partners, will develop the foundation services rover. The consortium will be selected by the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER) from industry proposals that address, among other things:
- The extent the solution meets the mission constraints and how the project team will assure the quality of the solution
- The capacity, capability and resources to deliver the proposed mission and how it meets the mission constraints, including financial contributions
- The commercial viability of the solution and the impact the mission will have on the Australian space sector
Final details on the proposed mission and characteristics of the rover and assessment criteria for proposals will be provided when the Trailblazer program opens later this years, according to DISER.
The semi-autonomous rover will be used to demonstrate the collection of lunar soil (regolith), which contains oxygen (in the form of oxides). Using separate equipment that will be sent to the moon with the rover, NASA will aim to extract oxygen from the regolith. This is a key step towards establishing a sustainable human presence on the Moon, as well supporting future missions to Mars.
The mission will demonstrate Australian industry’s world leading skills and experience in remote operations and autonomous systems, says DISER. It will draw upon Australia’s expertise in remote operation of robotics systems proven in the resources and mining sector.
NASA intends to fly the rover to the lunar surface provided it meets a range of conditions during this phase of the collaboration. It is expected to launch no earlier than 2026.
The key objectives for the Trailblazer program include:
- accelerating the growth of the Australian space industry
- building Australian space capability and capacity
- lifting Australian involvement in national and international supply chains
- inspiring the Australian public.
With a key objective of the Trailblazer program being building Australian space industry capability and capacity, investment through the program will focus in Australia.
The program is expected to open later this year, with applications expected to be submitted in early 2022.