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Autonomous machines may help Japan colonize Mars

Japan has fifteen years to prep for takeoff. It hopes to launch a manned mission to the moon around 2030, and it has its sights set on Mars a decade later. This year, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) commissioned a construction company, Kajima, to build autonomous, extraterrestrial construction machinery that, if all goes well, will help level ground, excavate, and develop long-term facilities for astronauts on the moon and Red Planet, reports Nikkei Asian Review.

This isn’t Kajima’s first rodeo. JAXA likely chose to partner with the company due to its established automated construction system, Automated Autonomous Advanced Accelerated Construction System for Safety (A4CSEL), which has been used to build dams around Japan. A4CSEL machines use GPS to receive direction from operators, who simply tap the orders into a tablet. The machines then follow those instructions independently.

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In its partnership with JAXA, Kajima hopes to extend these signals long distances, to allow their machinery to communicate with operators on Earth. They also plan to design their machines to communicate with each other. Recognizing that human operators may err — and that Earth will be over 200,000 miles away if anything were to go wrong — Kajima and JAXA think it’s important to build the machines that can operate as teams, to avoid crashes or accidentally doing the same task, reports Nikkei Asian Review.

JAXA has also announced that it will commission Taguchi Industrial to develop ultra-lightweight construction equipment, Sentencia to develop sensor technology for ice-water detection, Sony to develop a low-power modem for long-distance communications, and Chugoku Kogyo to research regenerative fuel-cell systems

With a $2 billion annual budget, JAXA is the fourth largest space agency after NASA, the ESA, and French space agency CNES.