UK to send ‘walking’ spider robot to the moon in its first lunar rover mission

The tiny, spider-esque robot – which will be the world’s smallest robotic moon rover – will crawl across the moon to take photographs and gather data.

Developed by London-based star-up Spacebit, the robot forms part of a collaborative mission with US company Astrobotic.

Nasa announced in May that Astrobotic was to be awarded a $79.5m (£65m) contract to transport 14 instruments from various partners to investigate the moon’s “volatile elements” such as hydrogen and oxygen, which could be used for astronaut life support and rocket fuel in the future.

SpaceBit will be one of those partners, sending the rover to the surface inside Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander. The Spacebit rover weighs just 1.5kg and, instead of wheels, is equipped with four legs to essentially “crawl” over the moon’s surface in order to gather data.

That data will then be sent back to Astrobotic’s lander before being transmitted to Earth.

“Our goal is to go there and see what is available there for all humanity to explore,” said Pavlo Tanasyuk, SpaceBit’s founder, at the New Scientist Live event in London’s ExCeL.

He added that, unlike rovers with wheels or tracks, this robot with its four legs would provide an opportunity for “something a little bit like a human” to explore the lunar surface.

The robot is equipped with cameras, one of which can take a “robot selfie”, and a range of sensors to gather data.

Spacebit hopes that because of its legs and tiny size, the robot will eventually be able to explore the moon’s “lunar lava tubes”. These are subsurface tunnels, believed to have been formed by ancient balsatic lava flows.

Experts believe that the tunnels and caves could potentially serve as human habitats in the future as they protect from radiation and other environmental risks on the surface. Should Spacebit’s robot make it into the tunnels, it will have been the first time they have been explored.