Skip to main content

Japan wants to send a transforming spherical robot to the moon

Transformable lunar robot (left: before transformation, right: after transformation)
Transformable lunar robot (left: before transformation, right: after transformation) JAXA

The moon could soon be visited by a jolly round robotic friend. The Japanese Space Agency, JAXA, has announced plans to build a transforming lunar rover to explore the moon ahead of its planned crewed mission there.

To travel across the lunar regolith — the dusty, soil-like substance which covers the moon’s surface — the rover will be able to transform from its ball-like travel form, designed to be as compact and efficient as possible, into a delightfully named “running form” which it will use to move around the lunar environment. It will take pictures of the surface to learn more about the topography and the qualities of the regolith, to help engineers design a more maneuverable crewed rover.

The round rover will be just a few inches across, or a bit larger than a tennis ball, and will weigh around 250 grams (8.8 ounces). To pack all of the required technology into this tiny form, JAXA is partnering with the Tomy toy company and Doshisha University, with technology contributed by Sony as well.

JAXA says it aims to launch the mini rover in 2022, to be followed by a much larger rover in 2029. This larger rover will be pressurized and crewed, allowing astronauts to cover larger areas of the moon’s surface and explore more widely. JAXA will also be working alongside NASA for its Artemis mission to the moon.

“In 2019, the Government of Japan decided to participate in the Artemis program which was proposed by the U.S.,” said JAXA Vice President Hiroshi Sasaki. “Based on the decision, JAXA has been promoting mission development and system studies on international space exploration targeting the Moon and Mars by gathering Japanese technologies and knowledge.

“In particular, the crewed pressurized rover will play an important role in developing mobility on the lunar surface for sustainable exploration activities. The data on the lunar surface can be obtained by utilizing the transformable lunar robot which is a production of the Space Exploration Innovation Hub and the lunar landing missions of the commercial company. By making the best use of the data, we will surely proceed with the study on the crewed pressurized rover”

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
Eight artists chosen for first civilian moon trip
SpaceX's Starship spacecraft atop the Super Heavy booster.

dearMoon Crew Announcement! | 月周回プロジェクトdearMoon クルー発表

Four years ago, Japanese billionaire entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa stood alongside SpaceX chief Elon Musk to announce plans for the first civilian mission to the moon.

Read more
Orion has close encounter with moon before heading home
NASA's Orion spacecraft passing close to the moon.

NASA has shared remarkable footage showing its Orion spacecraft passing over the lunar surface at an altitude of just 687 miles.

The flyby, which at one point took the uncrewed spacecraft to within 79 miles of the moon’s surface, took place on Monday, December 6, just over three weeks after the Orion left Earth on the Artemis I mission. The spacecraft made a similarly close approach to the lunar surface last month, too.

Read more
How to watch Orion’s return flyby of the moon on Monday
NASA’s uncrewed Orion spacecraft reached a maximum distance of nearly 270,000 miles from Earth during the Artemis I flight test before beginning its journey back toward Earth. Orion captured imagery of the Earth and Moon together from its distant lunar orbit, including this image on Nov. 28, 2022, taken from camera on one of the spacecraft’s solar array wings.

NASA's Orion spacecraft has traveled nearly 270,000 miles away from Earth on its distant orbit of the moon, and soon it will be heading back toward Earth. But before it splashes down on Earth it has to make a return flyby of the moon, scheduled for Monday, December 5.

NASA’s Artemis I Mission Return Trip Lunar Flyby

Read more