Astrolab’s FLEX Moon Buggy Flexes Serious Muscle on First Test Drive

The FLEX Moon buggy from Astrolab out in the Californian desert 8 photos
Photo: Astrolab
The FLEX Moon buggy from Astrolab out in the Californian desertThe FLEX Moon buggy from Astrolab out in the Californian desertLunar Roving VehicleLunar Roving VehicleLunar Roving VehicleLunar Roving VehicleLunar Roving Vehicle
As NASA is gearing up for the second Moon exploration effort, space startup Venturi Astrolab is putting the finishing touches on what it hopes will become the official Moon Buggy: FLEX.
FLEX, which stands for Flexible Logistics and Exploration, is more than a Moon buggy because it is the result of a more holistic approach. It was designed as a multi-functional rover that would bring sustainable first- and last-mile transportation on the Moon and Mars, not just for the upcoming missions but for a possible future establishment there. It can be operated remotely or manually and can serve both for cargo hauling and people transport.

In short, FLEX is the not-so-little buggy that can.

Designed around a modular payload interface that supports intermodal transportation, FLEX is supposed to meet the mobility requirements of sustained human presence on the Moon and Mars. Thanks to its revolutionary mobility system architecture, it can pick up and deposit payloads, as well as double as an unpressurized rover for two astronauts. It can be used both as a lander and rover, depending on the situation.

“For humanity to truly live and operate in a sustained way off Earth, there needs to exist an efficient and economical transportation network all the way from the launch pad to the ultimate outpost,” Jaret Matthews, Founder and CEO of Astrolab, explains. “Currently, there is a gap in the last mile and Astrolab exists to fill it.”

FLEX has already been out on its first test drive, though not yet on the Moon. Astrolab, together with retired NASA astronaut Chris Hadfield, who serves as Advisory Board Member at the startup, took a full-scale prototype out for a spin in the California desert, where it performed a series of tasks it would also perform on the lunar surface, assuming NASA picked it up as official rover. These included transporting a crew of two and picking up and dropping a variety of payloads while navigating through rough terrain at a top speed of 15 kph (9.3 mph).

Two videos of the test drive are available at the bottom of the page. In the first one, Hadfield praises FLEX for its “size and capability” and expresses excitement at the “intuitive sense of what this rover can do.”

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Editor's note: For comparison, photos in the gallery also show the first Moon Buggy.

About the author: Elena Gorgan
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Elena has been writing for a living since 2006 and, as a journalist, she has put her double major in English and Spanish to good use. She covers automotive and mobility topics like cars and bicycles, and she always knows the shows worth watching on Netflix and friends.
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