Japan’s Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) lunar lander mission carried a small lunar rover that was considered a child’s toy. Photo/JAXA/Space
TOKYO – Japan’s Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) lunar lander mission brought a tiny moon explorer inspired by children’s toys. This small vehicle in the form of a ball robot is called a rolly-polly which moves around to take pictures of the SLIM lander on the moon.
This small metal ball robot has the official name Lunar Excursion Vehicle 2 (LEV-2) and is no bigger than a tennis ball. Once on the moon, the metal robot will launch from the SLIM lander, and turn both halves to traverse the smooth regolite on the lunar surface.
Assuming the SLIM landing goes according to plan, the LEV-2 spherical robot will lift off from the lander at an altitude of about 1.8 meters above the lunar surface. Then, it begins to roll to depict the SLIM landing and the area around it.
The LEV-2 battery is estimated to last around two hours. When the two parts of the LEV-2 are separated, they can function as legs and wheels that allow the small vehicle to move.
Nestled between its sections are two cameras and a stabilizer used to help the LEV-2 navigate its surroundings. LEV-2 will send its data back to Earth via LEV-1, a separate probe also aboard SLIM, which will operate alongside SLIM and LEV-2.
Hirano Daichi developed the LEV-2 at JAXA, working with toy manufacturer Tomy and researchers at Doshisha University, including the Sony Group to provide camera parts. This robot is inspired by the shape-changing mechanism used in children’s toys.
“We adopt strong and safe design technology in children’s toys. This technology reduces as much as possible the number of components used in a vehicle and increases its reliability,” explained Daichi in a JAXA press release.
The technology also helps reduce the size of the LEV-2 to meet size constraints when flying with a SLIM lander. This robot was successfully developed in a limited size and mass using streamlining and weight reduction technologies and deformation mechanisms.
It is known that the SLIM mission is a lunar lander from the Japanese space agency JAXA designed to demonstrate a soft landing. The SLIM mission was launched on an H-2A rocket on Wednesday 6 September 2023 with the XRISM X-ray satellite.
SLIM, a relatively small spacecraft, is less than 2.4 meters long and will take the next few months to reach lunar orbit. The SLIM mission will spend another month surveying its landing site inside the Shioli Crater on the moon.