UAE's mission moon: 10kg rover to be launched on Space X rocket

Nandini Sircar/Dubai
Filed on April 14, 2021

Lunar rover Rashid scheduled to launch in 2022.

The UAE joins a distinguished league of nations aiming to land a spacecraft on the moon with its lunar rover ‘Rashid’ scheduled to launch in 2022.

Rashid was initially scheduled for 2024, but UAE scientists managed to prepone the launch.

“We had thought of sending the Rashid Rover to the moon’s surface before the end of 2024. Initially, that was the deadline. But after extensive discussions with ispace, we decided to have the Rover ready instead for a 2022 mission,” said Dr Hamad Al Marzooqi, Project Manager, Emirates Lunar Mission, Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre.

Speaking at a webinar held by MBRSC in association with its key strategic and implementation partner, Japan’s ispace, he said the rover will help scientists better understand how lunar dust and rocks vary across the moon.

Upon the execution of the mission, the UAE and Japan, together, are anticipated to be the next two nations to successfully put a spacecraft on the lunar surface, following the United States, Russia and China.

At the current stage, the mission is working on prototypes that will resemble a flight model. “This prototype will be tested during summer to go through different qualification testing and a simulated launch,” he said.

Adnan AlRais, Mars 2117 Programme Director, MBRSC said, “We were aiming for 2024, but in spite of the Covid-19 situation the development of the mission will not be delayed. In fact, now, instead of spending four years, we will be spending three years in the development of the mission and, hopefully, launch in 2022.”

The ‘Rashid’ rover will be transported to the Moon on ispace’s lunar lander during the company’s ‘Mission 1’ in 2022 as part of its commercial programme known as ‘HAKUTO-R’. Under the terms of the agreement, the Japanese lunar exploration company will deliver the Emirates Lunar Mission’s ‘Rashid’ rover to the Moon, provide wired communication and power during the cruise phase, and engage in wireless communication on the lunar surface.

The project is a key part of the UAE’s space exploration strategy, which is centred around building new knowledge capabilities, inspiring future generations to pursue space science and research and fostering global collaboration.

Takeshi Hakamada, Founder & CEO, ispace, said, “We are honoured that MBRSC has entrusted ispace’s lunar payload transportation service to play a key role in carrying out this historic moment for the UAE. The world will be watching as our commercial lander carries the ‘Rashid’ rover to the Moon. We’re pleased to advance collaboration between the UAE and Japan in space exploration, as well as to inspire more collaboration for lunar exploration between the public and commercial sector around the world.”

The rover which is another regional first is unusually small with just four wheels and a weight of 10kg. It will be launched onboard a Space X Falcon 9 rocket from Florida in the US.

But keeping the weight of the equipment under 10kg is a challenge in itself, explained Dr Hamad Al Marzooqi. “Building small rovers is extremely challenging because having many instruments housed inside such a small rover is difficult,” he said. “Aside from the science instruments, a lot of technologies and electronics are integrated inside this small rover and this is why working to house all these technologies is extremely daunting. Our engineers are fighting for each gram inside the rover and also a rover that has to drive for a couple of hundreds of meters on the lunar surface. Then, we have to accommodate a large part of that mass on the mobility system.”

The Rashid rover is expected to operate for only one lunar day — equivalent to 14 days on Earth — avoiding the cold of the lunar night.

“We have a ‘landing site working group’ and we are working with ispace on that. The landing site has been pinpointed to a specific location and the announcement of that will come soon. This is a new landing site that has not been explored by previous lunar missions,”adds Al Marzooqi.

For smaller rovers to survive a full cycle of day and night is very difficult as the rover cools down to the environmental temperature and then getting warmed up again may harm the system.

Al Marzooqi points out, “For Rashid Rover our main objectives will be performed in one lunar day so all primary objectives need to be completed by the first Lunar Day. We have certain objectives to extend our operations to a second lunar day and will attempt to survive the lunar night. But this is only an experimental phase and the main operations will end by the first Lunar Day.”

Finally, as governments and companies around the world set their sights on the Moon, fostering public-private partnerships seems to be the way forward for different nations.

Dr John Walker, Chief Rover Architect, ispace, opined, “As the frequency and volume of small rovers traversing the lunar landscape is expected to increase in the coming years, we’re pleased to bring MBRSC’s ‘Rashid’ rover to the Moon to kick start the next phase of lunar surface exploration.”

Did you know?

Rashid – the name was given to the rover in honour of the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, former Ruler of Dubai.

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