Wednesday, October 4, 2023

SpaceX Starship will transport the largest-ever rover to the Moon

California-based Astrolab has reached an agreement with Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) to transport Astrolab’s Flexible Logistics and Exploration (FLEX) rover on an upcoming mission to the Moon. SpaceX will use the Starship launch and landing system for this mission as soon as the middle of 2026.

When it arrives, Astrolab’s FLEX will become the largest and most capable rover to ever travel to the Moon. The FLEX rover is approximately three times the mass of its greatest predecessor, with a maximum combined rover and cargo mass of more than two tons. This increased capacity provides significantly more opportunities to conduct scientific research and business ventures on the lunar surface.

The vehicle was designed to serve as an unpressurized rover for a crew of two astronauts on the lunar surface. The vehicle is driven by astronauts using an onboard panel. It can also be controlled remotely in the absence of any in-person operators. In addition, FLEX is equipped with a six-degree-of-freedom robotic arm capable of manipulating the craft’s modular cargo area. The arm allows FLEX to perform science and logistics activities in support of human operations.

Astrolab FLEX with deployed robotic arm at night.
Astrolab FLEX with deployed robotic arm at night. Credit: Astrolab

Astrolab built the FLEX rover within NASA’s requirements for its Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV), the rover, which will be a standard component of the agency’s Artemis program long-term.

“Our Astrolab team has created much more than a rover for use on the Moon or Mars,” said Jaret Matthews, Founder, and CEO of Astrolab. “We’ve created a logistics system that can accommodate a wide variety of cargo. We expect that this approach will help establish a permanent lunar outpost on the Moon at a lower cost and in less time than previously envisioned. We are delighted that this contract with SpaceX will allow Astrolab to demonstrate the advantages of the FLEX rover and its modular payload system.”

Astrolab revealed in the press release that it has already signed multiple customer agreements to carry payloads on this mission. The release details of these agreements are expected to be released later this spring.

The company plans for this rover to be the first in a fleet of FLEX rovers on the lunar surface that will accelerate the vision of creating a permanent human presence on the Moon and, eventually, Mars.