Jun 17, 2019 | Updated: 11:38 AM EDT

JAXA Wants to Build a Lunar Base Using Robots

Apr 08, 2019 08:00 PM EDT

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Japan has announced high aspirations in the form of an unmanned construction site on the Moon. The project, which has been researched for nearly three years, is a collaboration between the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), the Japanese construction company Kajima Corp., and three Japanese universities: Shibaura Institute of Technology, The University of Electro-Communications and Kyoto University. Recently, the collaboration held an experimental exercise on automated construction at the Kajima Seisho Experiment Site in Odawara. A 7-ton remote-controlled, unmanned backhoe was on-site giving researchers a first-hand look at its possible lunar performance. The unmanned equipment was put to the test with various procedures such as driving certain distances and repeating routine operations, JAXA officials said in a statement. More technical operations were performed by a human, with the use of a remote control.

"[The backhoe] has been modified with onboard survey instruments and an automatic operation control console. The instruments that the tractor and backhoe are installed with autonomously measure [the backhoe's] position and direction ... making it both remotely and automatically operable," JAXA officials said.  "The operational process has shown feasibility of the unmanned technologies to build a lunar base," they added.

The autonomous backhoe has been equipped with various technologies in order to work on its own at the moon, which is located about two seconds' radio distance away from Earth. That means that any command sent from Earth by JAXA would take about two seconds to reach the backhoe working on the Moon.

"Building a base for humans using remote, autonomous control will require site preparation work, excavation, installing the module, and then shielding it with moon dust to protect humans from radiation and possible meteoroids," JAXA officials said.

Japan has been very busy lately. In mid-March, JAXA announced another collaboration with vehicle manufacturer Toyota to design and build a lunar rover to transport humans, which is targeted to launch by the year 2029. JAXA plans to have Japanese astronauts on the moon by 2030, according to Sky News, and its International Space Station partner, the United States, has much more ambition, with a target date of merely five more years.

In a press conference last month, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence demanded that NASA put US astronauts on the moon by the end of 2024. NASA is also designing a Lunar Gateway space station that has a target date of sometime in the 2020s. But the US and Japan aren't the only goverments with lofty lunar plans. In March, Canada was the first space station partner to commit to joining Gateway; they are responsible for the construction of  an autonomous robotic arm, in which they have dubbed; Canadarm3.

It has been 50 years since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first walked on the moon. The actual date is July 20, 1969, when the Apollo 11 astronauts spent about 2 hours on foot exploring what is once again the target of this century's space race.

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