Categories: MoonSpace Exploration

Japan Shoots for Robotic Moon Base by 2020


These ARE the droids we’ve been looking for. The Japanese space agency, JAXA, has plans to build a base on the Moon by 2020. Not for humans, but for robots, and built by robots, too. A panel authorized by Japan’s prime minister has drawn up preliminary plans of how humanoid and rover robots will begin surveying the moon by 2015, and then begin construction of a base near the south pole of the moon. The robots and the base will run on solar power, with total costs about $2.2 billion USD, according to the panel chaired by Waseda University President Katsuhiko Shirai.

Moon base robot. Credit: JAXA

Some of the planned droids weigh about 300 kg (660 pounds) and move on tank-like treads. Reportedly, they will be able to operate within a 100 km (60 mile) radius of the base. They’ll be equipped with solar panels, seismographs to investigate the moon’s inner structure, high-def cameras, and arms to gather rock samples, which will be returned to Earth via a sample return rocket.

The exact location for the base will be chosen from high-resolution images returned by Japan’s Kaguya orbiter, which has provided stunning images of the Moon’s surface.

Previously, JAXA had set a goal of constructing a manned lunar base starting in about 2030, and apparently, the robotic base would be a precursor. That plan calls for astronauts to visit the Moon by around 2020 which is about the same timetable as the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is hoping to have a manned mission to the Moon. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has said they would like to have a manned lunar mission in 2030. NASA? Not sure yet. The Constellation program to return to the Moon has seemingly been axed, but it’s not going down without a fight from members of Congress and others. But surely, even if NASA decides an asteroid or Mars is their destination of choice, they would have to start by practicing on the Moon.

Let’s all work together on this and perhaps returning to the Moon will actually happen.

Source: NODE via PopSci

Nancy Atkinson

Nancy has been with Universe Today since 2004. She is the author of a new book on the Apollo program, "Eight Years to the Moon," which shares the stories of 60 engineers and scientists who worked behind the scenes to make landing on the Moon possible. Her first book, "Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos" tells the stories of those who work on NASA's robotic missions to explore the Solar System and beyond.

View Comments

  • Kinna makes me want to fire up my Gold Wing and go for a lil ol RIDE! (Cept its still raining again here in No. Cal.)

  • This is largely the way to go. Robotic systems on the moon could be used to expand a growing infrastructure, which in time could involve constructing astronomical iand other scientific instruments. If there ia a manned presence at all it should be employed as a facilitator in the deployment of systems and maintenance or repair work beyond the abilities of robots. Yet in general I think the space frontier is going to be inhabited by robots.


  • I don't care who is going up, as long as I have a front-seat and a live web cam that I can follow what they are doing.

    And I hope they visit the Apollo landers to see how the materials aged all this time.

  • The one problem I have with robots is that it is claimed they can't (yet) do the job of trained geologists or paleoanthropologists when surveying geology respectively life traces.

    But yes, if that capability can be achieved, there is no other exploration purpose to go to the Moon beyond the research. It is not necessary for exploring other sites, say Mars. The systems are tested out here first in any case just as for Apollo.

    Practice could be good but if not it is a moderate risk to find out on Mars that you need to cut the trip short because the infrastructure doesn't fit the task. The one component that absolutely need practice is the crafts, and that is in the current plan with orbital and NEO visits.

    As for resources and staging posts, I assume NEOs and Lagrange points are better choices. The one unique non-science resource that the Moon has is its tourism value.

  • And when I say "practice could be good", I'm not including the cost in increased NASA budget and the added years of time, if the project is to visit Mars. The current plan is the cheaper, faster one, and what is not to like about that?

  • Looks like Heinlein's vision of an Asian-colonized Moon looks more and more plausible every day. I just hope they name the central computer at the robotic base Mycroft.. and that it is complex enough to develop sentience :)

    On a serious note though, robotics are really the way to go for the moon. It's completely uninhabitable, has no prospects of ever being terraformed, has few resources to support a dome (or underground) base, and no real mining potential other than Helium-3. Why not have robots do the job?

    The radio lag time between here and there is an annoyance, certainly, but not nearly as extreme as anywhere else in the solar system, and so close that near real-time operation of the robots is possible and they need very little autonomy built in.

  • take my love
    take my land
    take me where I cannot stand
    I don't care
    I'm still free
    you can't take the sky from me

    take me out
    to the black tell 'em I ain't coming back
    burn the land
    and boil the sea
    you can't take the sky from me

    have no place
    I can be
    since I found Serenity
    but you can't take the sky from me

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