Major Japanese Companies Planning For The Construction Of A Lunar Base With Robots

Major Japanese Companies Planning For The Construction Of A Lunar Base With Robots

    All Nippon Airways (ANA) is Japan’s biggest airline. They are teaming up with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on the formation of Robot X. They believe that their collaboration with will enable them to “break through the inherent barriers of space exploration.” In 2016, JAXA began collaborating with Kajima Corporation, a construction company, and three Japanese universities including Shibaura Institute of Technology, the University of Electro-Communications and Kyoto University to develop a remote construction system. This system would make use of remote-controlled robots to construct a lunar base with little to no human supervision. Three years of research have convinced these collaborators that there is a bright future for the use of robots as construction workers in space.
     The use of robots to construct a lunar base will require major resources of time, money, people, research and robot capabilities. ANA and its collaborators believe that using autonomous robots will have enormous implications for the exploration and exploitation of space.
     A permanent base on the Moon would make travel to Mars easier. This would give researchers more time to search for life on Mars. More immediately, a lunar base would allow JAXA to carry out more research missions in space. The successful landing of the Hayabusa spacecraft on the Itokawa asteroid several years ago is an excellent example of missions that would be assisted by a lunar base. There were serious complications that challenged the Itokawa mission, but the craft did eventually return to Earth with a sample from the asteroid’s surface. NASA officials described the mission as “beyond remarkable.”
    In addition to extending the limits of space exploration, a lunar base will also attract an influx of corporate innovation that will have ramifications for the improvement of society on Earth in general. One original concept from Japan is called the Luna Ring. This is a solar panel concept that would use robots to provide clean power for Earth. The Luna Ring was developed by the Shimizu Corporation. The project calls for the use of an army of robot workers, teleoperated from Earth, to construct a huge ring of solar panels along the seven-thousand-mile equator of the Moon. There would be a team of astronauts on the Moon to monitor and assist the robot workers.
    It is obvious that it will be a very complex project to build a lunar base that can be a livable habitat for human astronauts. The collaborators have divided their lunar base project into four phases.
     Phase one would involve the preparation of the chosen site for human habitation. During Phase Two, the site would have to be excavated to ensure that the base would be constructed at the required depth. In Phase Three, after excavation, the robots would begin installing the habitation module and making it safe against threats from the Moon and the space around it. One big concern will be meteoroids that travel through space at such high speeds that if such a space rock hit the habitation module, it could cause a leak of oxygen.  The Fourth and final Phase would consist of covering the entire habitat module with moon dust called regolith. This shield will serve not only to protect the habitat from damage but will also protect the human inhabitants from the severe levels of radiation from the Sun as well as cosmic rays from beyond the Solar System.
    Thorough testing is a critical foundational element for any technological development. At the end of three years of comprehensive research for the lunar base project, the collaboration recently carried out an experiment. A seven-ton autonomous backhoe was operated on the testing grounds. The experiment was executed at the Kajima Seisho Experiment Site in Odawara, Japan. It involved procedures such as driving a specified distance and repeating routine operations.
    Besides testing full automation capability, the experiment also included establishing remote construction functionality, just in case there were task that were too complicated to be carried out by autonomous robots. The results of the experiment gave the collaborators confidence that it will be possible to construct a permanent habitable lunar base with the use of construction robots. A JAXA official said that “The operational process has shown the feasibility of the unmanned technologies to build a lunar base.”
    In spite of the optimism of the team of collaborators, this project is a huge undertaking which will require a great deal money and manpower. In order to make these huge investments pay off, Japanese innovators will need to develop some breakthrough innovations that will have a long ranging societal impact. ANA believes that this is the only way to advance humankind.