Japan is serious about landing on the moon that it's already planning how to set up a lunar base with the help of a technology it knows best: robots.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is working with the United States and Russia in building a new space station that will orbit the moon. If everything goes well, it should be operational in the 2020s.
JAXA, however, is also busy trying to launch a moon base with machines that are autonomous or have remote control functionalities. They also won't need a lot of human intervention and supervision.
Project Lunar Base
The project has been going on for three years now and involves four more unlikely partners. One of these is Kajima Corporation, a construction company. The rest are schools, namely, Kyoto University, the University of Electro-Communications, and Shibaura Institute of Technology.
The current plan comprised of four steps. The first phase involves the preparation of the site for modules suitable for human living.
The second step is to excavate the sites up to the required depth. Once this is completed, the project enters into the third phase, which is module installation.
The last objective is to develop a shield for the lunar base using regolith or moon dust. It will protect the modules and humans from the effects of radiation and meteoroids.
If the meteoroids, which are high-speed space rocks, hit the base, it would result in an oxygen leak, threatening people's lives.
Testing The Technology
Much of the automation or remote control will be based on a technology developed by Kajima called A4CSEL.
To have a proof of concept, the team decided to simulate the operations in one of the Kajima sites. In there is a 7-ton class earth mover modified with a control console that can operate automatically.
It also features onboard survey instruments that allow the machine to measure both direction and position by itself. In situations where it may need human intervention, users may do so through remote control.
The backhoe further comes with operational support to compensate for a possible few seconds' delays in communication.
Instructions from Earth usually travel to the moon within 2 seconds. This functionality will allow the equipment to work without issues even if the delay takes up to 8 seconds.
Since building a lunar base means using many machines, the technology will help synchronize their operations by avoiding interference.
So far, the outcome of the simulation is encouraging.
"Various commands have been executed — the routine operation is repeated, driving over specified distances is automated, and operations requiring fine tuning are controlled remotely. The operational process has shown feasibility of the unmanned technologies to build a lunar base," said JAXA.
This isn't the only plan Japan has once it reaches the moon. Toyota is already thinking of launching a six-wheel moon rover powered by water-emitting fuel cells in 2029. It can travel more than 6,000 miles, carry up to four passengers, and may even serve as a 13-square-meter housing unit.
Other companies such as Japan Airlines and Tokyo Broadcasting Holdings are financing a mission that may be able to display advertising platforms or billboards in the lunar surface.