Exoskeleton to Push Robots Into the Moon's Mysterious Underground Tunnels

Illustration of a lunar pit 6 photos
Photo: 2022 EPFL
Lucas Froissart testing the exoskeletonLucas Froissart with his prototypeIllustration of a lunar pitMare Tranquillitatis pit craterThree images of the Marius Hills pit on the Moon
For decades, scientists have been scanning the Moon's rugged surface, studying the regolith and craters. However, under this hostile environment are "subsurface cavities," which are tunnels thought to have formed as a result of past volcanic activity. Researchers plan to find out more about these mysterious lunar caves, which might actually prove to be a key element in establishing a long-term presence on the Moon.
Although the Moon has been thoroughly studied with the help of satellites, there's little known about this alien underground world. Several space agencies, including the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), are planning to send robots to the Moon to investigate these lava tubes ahead of humans' arrival.

This complex mission would require several robotic systems that could communicate with each other in the caves and at the surface, proper equipment that could withstand the lunar environment, as well as explorer robots capable of venturing into the underground tunnel system.

Engineering student Lucas Froissart from Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) came up with an exoskeleton design that could help robots reach further into the tunnels. Froissart got an internship at JAXA during his Master's program. In just six months, he designed and developed a prototype that could be dropped into a lunar pit and propel up to six explorer robots.

"I didn't even get to see what these robots looked like. I was just told that they were like a gymnastic ball in terms of weight, size and rigidity," he said.

To replicate the robots, he got some gymnastic balls around which he mounted the exoskeleton. His testing ground was the construction site located next to his campus.

After hundreds of tests, he finally succeeded: his invention helped push the balls several feet away from the impact area. JAXA offered him positive feedback and expressed interest in continuing to work with him. Who knows, we might just see Froissart's exoskeleton being used on the Moon in the near future.

Mapping the Moon's hidden underground system could not only bring to light new details about our satellite's geological past, but it could also help determine if these caves can provide shelter for astronauts – they could function as natural campsites that would protect them from harmful radiation.
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About the author: Florina Spînu
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Florina taught herself how to drive in a Daewoo Tico (a rebadged Suzuki Alto kei car) but her first "real car" was a VW Golf. When she’s not writing about cars, drones or aircraft, Florina likes to read anything related to space exploration and take pictures in the middle of nature.
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