back to article ESA mulls sending waves of robot explorers into dark depths of lunar lava tubes

The European Space Agency is investigating sending an army of autonomous rovers into underground caves and lava tubes on the Moon. Officials are assessing suggestions for the robotic exploration of tunnels as long as 50km carved by flowing lava during ancient geological activity. This would be part of ESA's European Large …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Clangers will be annoyed.

    1. spold Silver badge

      NASA: Wanted: Astro-troglodytes, must love green soup and blue string pudding.

  2. Chris G

    I quite like the swarm idea, then you could equip individual rovers with more specific sensors rather than trying to cram as much sciencr as possible onto one large machine. I know in launch terms it may be less efficient but would increase flexibility and redundancy in the event of rovers that break down.

    1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

      Now if only we could make the swarm capable of making new members of the swarm ...... and we could give them a funky name, like replicators!!!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Aggressive Hegemonising Swarm Object

      2. Anonymous Coward

        Universal Breeding ESA Robots - UBER.

        Maybe they could get some private funding.

  3. fidodogbreath

    That last image reminds me of a 1980s side-scroller. Maybe Moon Patrol, but in the Super Mario underworld.

  4. MachDiamond Silver badge

    No exploring.

    If the entrance is a skylight, it makes sense to lower in a laser range finder and do a scan. If the tunnel is long enough (TBD), construct an entrance ramp that rovers can drive down rather than using a crane. Build sealed sections a length at a time with airlocks installed at the far end to continue sealing sections and have a way to remove spoil while digging to lengthen tunnels. Spending all of the time and money to map a long tunnel is too much expense up front if the goal is to use them as habitats.

    I like the idea of installing a recharging station in the tunnel that rovers can dock to for a recharge. Rovers should also be able to share power unit to unit.

  5. Spherical Cow


    This reminds me of the scene in Prometheus where they use remote drones to scan and map the tunnel system. (I couldn't find a version in English, but I'm sure you can work out what's going on).

  6. harmjschoonhoven
    Thumb Up


    Delft Dynamics already developed their U-drone. An tethered underground drone for military reconnaissance. U-drone navigates with Australian SLAM (Simultaneous Location and Mapping) software.

    The U-drone is one of the many products sponsored by the Dutch army.

    One of Delft Dynamics' other products is a drone catcher. See the video.

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      Re: U-drone

      The atmosphere on the moon is very thin; not enough to clay, nor enough for "air" cooling. Plus the dust is so abrasive it will eat anything worth movement.

      SLAM and auto navigation and obstacle avoidance are not the problem; we were doing that 15 years ago. The moon is the problem, and nothing that isn't designed specifically for it won't survive.

    2. Mr Sceptical

      Re: U-drone

      In that case we know what will happen next...

      Icon for the Nuke from orbit, its the only way to be sure option -->>

  7. Gene Cash Silver badge


    "The European Space Agency is investigating sending an army of autonomous rovers into underground caves and lava tubes on the Moon."

    That's the sort of shit I'd work on almost for free, if they're serious about it. I doubt they are though. This will be another powerpoint project forgotten by next year.

  8. Adair Silver badge


    If the lava tubes on the Moon (or Mars) are anything like the ones I've been in here on Terra then the probes would probably be better off being more like spiders. The interiors are usually full of seriously rough terrain, with roof falls, cracks, and precipitous ups and downs all along the way.

    If the probe/s were free floating that would be ideal, otherwise it needs to be something that really can take just about anything in its stride - literally.

    1. John Jennings

      Re: Spider

      The most flexible robot we have is an someone in a spacesuit.

      perhaps an armored one.

      We sent a robot to mars with a spade, and it couldnt dig. the only way to deal with the unexpected is to have someone do it. We cant design well for what we don't know.

      Just sayin.

  9. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921

    Hail Our Bezos Moomin Overlords!

    Bezos will populate lunar lava tubes with copies of himself:

  10. TomJo

    Why explore these tunnels at all? Or is it where they want to build a lunar base?

    We've got some cool ideas for exploring tunnels in stone ... There is hardly anything you can find there other than the tunnel itself.

    I hope I am wrong. Otherwise, this is another pointless waste of time and resources.

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge


      Literally the 3rd paragraph, 2nd sentence thereof:

      It's thought the tubes could not only offer a safe living environment for humans but may also contain water or useful minerals for long-term manned missions.

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