It is strange that when anyone mentions landing on the moon our minds immediately think about the 1960s and 1970s, they do not think about the future. It is a well known point that the knowledge that got man to the moon 50 years ago is now lost and we are figuring it out all over again today. Yet with the modern advances in technology, what was done then is certainly possible today. In reality, most space stations agree. They could likely reach the moon if they wished, but it has been done. Instead of just visiting the moon for a “few small steps” they now want to do more. The next journey to the moon will be a significant one.
Space agencies around the world do have considerable plans for the moon this decade. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) aims to establish a lunar base in 2029 and NASA aims to return humans to the moon by 2024. While the Coronavirus (Covid-19) will likely put some delays on these plans it is still remarkable to think that in the next ten to twenty years man will return to the moon. Those incredible scenes that we have only seen brief shots of will be a reality for current generations.
Yet if we return to the moon our aims must be greater. The Japanese aiming to put a base there is already impressive. Yet to really understand the moon we will need to explore more of it. This is why JAXA is developing a rover that will be able to drive on the moon. The car will be able to hold four astronauts so you can stop picturing images like the Mars Rover or Wall-E. This machine will be closer to a tank. It will be built to travel 10,000 km on the moon and will allow astronauts to explore territory that we have never seen before.
One of the biggest challenges facing JAXA in this aim is the tires. If you think about any rover, the cabin is relatively straightforward. Create a cabin that is pressured and allows people to survive. Protect all of the material that is on the exterior so that nothing can be eroded. The real challenge is the tires as they are coming in constant contact with the surface of the moon.
The surface of the moon is like nothing we have on Earth. It is such a fine level of material that it can get inside any microscopic gap. This would be terrible for the tires we use on Earth. Not only this but it is incredibly abrasive and when it lodges itself in tiny holes it can do a lot of damage. If that was not enough the material appears to have an electrostatic charge. This means a unique solution is required.
JAXA has hired Toyota to lead the construction of the rover but has hired Bridgestone to take control of the tire. Bridgestone has been in operation since 1931, if there is one company that knows tires, it is them. The company is already developing a tyre that will be suitable for the moon’s surface and showed one design at a recent electronics show in the U.S. The tire it showed is made of woven steel that is braided to make it smooth yet incredibly tough. The pattern will allow the tire to be strong enough to withstand the tough material of the moon yet not penetrate too deeply into the sand.
Bridgestone is actively testing these tires on the toughest material it can find here on Earth. The company is using glass and lava rock, to name a few. Whether this will be enough, we will only find out when on the moon!