America may have eighty-sixed its moon base ambitions, but the Japanese have no plans to let perfectly good lunar real estate go to waste. An ambitious $2.2 billion project in the works at JAXA, the Japanese space agency, plans to put humanoid robots on the moon by 2015, and now official backing from the Prime Minister's office says the Japanese could have an unmanned lunar base up and running by 2020.
Key to all of this, of course, is the robots themselves, and who better than the Japanese to dream up and realize the kind of intelligent, self-repairing, multitasking bots that will be needed to fulfill such a mission.
As currently envisioned, the robots that will land on the lunar surface in 2015 will be 660-pound behemoths equipped with rolling tank-like treads, solar panels, seismographs, high-def cameras and a smattering of scientific instruments. They'll also have human-like arms for collecting rock samples that will be returned to Earth via rocket. The robots will be controlled from Earth, but they'll also be imbued with their own kind of machine intelligence, making decisions on their own and operating with a high degree of autonomy.
Those initial surveyor bots will pave the way for the construction of the unmanned moon base near the lunar south pole, which the robots will construct for themselves. That base will be solar powered and provide a working/living space future robot colonizers, as well as -- presumably -- a jumping off point for future human moon dwellers.
Sound far-fetched? It's certainly an ambitious project given the timeline. But considering Americans put actual men on the moon in a decade span with far inferior technology it certainly seems within the realm of possibility. Moreover, the massive technological fallout from that initial push for the moon was a boon for private industry, seeding some important and amazing technological breakthroughs. Even if Japan falls short of its 2020 deadline, the advances in robotics technology that could fall out of this little project could be as exciting as the moon base itself.
That's awesome for Japan and the rest of the world, I'm stoked for this one way or another. But it breaks my heart that the US has forfeit our lead in the space race.
Why hasn't Microsoft or Apple or Winn resorts, or ANY of the major multi-nationals gotten in on a full spectrum space program?
2.2 billion? SERIOUSLY? IS THAT IT? The white house is making this out to be a 100 billion dollars that we'd flush down the crapper yet Japan can pull it off for 2.2 billion.
If Coke, Microsoft, Outback Steakhouse, and Google all chipped in, we'd have 30,000 people living and working on the moon within 2 years. The advances in space tech and sciences would send humanity to new reaches, yet our own government feels it's better to spend money elsewhere. Frankly I say "That's FINE, Give it to the Private Sector!"
START WRITING LETTERS PEOPLE!
But..don't the US and Russia currently ferry jaxa astronauts to the ISS? They currently don't have their own launch vehicle, so how are they going to do this (put anything on the moon) in less than 5 years? I mean, I'm sure they have the technology in robots, it just seems like an extremely aggressive timeline.
@coolhand, you are correct that japan does not currently have the capability to launch manned space craft, but then they aren't trying to. they do have a robust unmanned space program and have already sent several missions to survey the moon.
from the jaxa website: ""KAGUYA" (SELENE), Japan’s first large lunar explorer, was launched by the H-IIA rocket on September 14, 2007 (JST). The mission, which is the largest lunar mission since the Apollo program..."
i do not doubt that they have the tech for this, ambitious as it is.
unfortunatly the days of US tech superiority are quickly dwindling if they are not gone already. we can no longer say "if we can't do it, then no one else can." and i think us citizens need to reorient thier own thinking to reflect that. its sad though, american ego aside, its a real tragedy that we have put our space program on the back burner for so long.
@KH the article said that the initial wave of 'bots in 2015 will be "660-pound behemoths equipped with rolling tank-like treads, solar panels, seismographs, high-def cameras and a smattering of scientific instruments".
that seems pretty big to me, not sure on the specifics, but i really doubt they would make this plan in the first place if they were as limited as you seem to think.
I agree with KH
lnwolf41 We'll let Japan and any other country do the hard work then we'll take over after it will make money.
I am really excited about the idea of carrying people to the moon, BUT, I think Japan's way is the correct one.
We must make cheap things first, and try to get some economic return.
As economic return happens, money will flow and the human space exploration will come in shortly.
If we don't find an economic return, we will waste 100 billon dollars to go to the moon, return to the earth just to wait for another 50 years to prepare another human visit to the moon.
What is the economic return here though?
-Private scientific exploration (involving life, materials, terrain, phographs)
-Dark side of the moon radio & visual telescope exploration.
-Internet servers for inter-satellite communications.
There are thousands of posibilities.
Ask somebody in the street what simulations you can do with a computer. The will have no idea. This is the same. As possibilities became feasible ideas will spark, and money will follow.
You will never achieve permanent growing space exploration if you don't make things thinking in an economic positive feedback loop.
If you don't have returns, space exploration will continue being just an expensive toy.
It is in some ways better for the US to take a back seat with moon exploration and let Japan have this one for a few reasons:
-There are no real direct economic or exploratory benefits of this sort of exploration that can benefit Japan immediately.
-The indirect results of these experiments (ie data and technological advances) will be internationally available and most likely extremely useful. We will learn, through Japanese robots as our proxy, what hazards will be encountered when really attempting to set up extraterrestrial bases, which will prove beneficial to our Mars programs.
-Instead of the US taking the financial brunt of all space exploration we can use other interested countries to preform the mildly less glorious research for the betterment of all space exploration, and focus our energies on Mars.
I love for the US to be on the bleeding edge of space exploration, but the fact is with budget cuts and the increasing complexity of our plans we can't be the only ones with ambitious plans for space, which is slowing becoming a more collaborative effort.
Just one final note, I wish people would stop talking about mining the moon or any other planet for that matter. Mining operations are generally done on a massive scale to be profitable, and moving those materials on earth is costly, let alone from the moon to earth. The only true reason for mining another planet/moon, right now, is to provide immediate resources for those on said planet/moon. One day it will be an issue to discuss, but for now its just not important.
Wow this is great. It's time for the next step in this planets space race. Also not surprising that US abandoned it with it's latest economic problems. Way to go for Japan.
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"2.2 billion? SERIOUSLY? IS THAT IT? The white house is making this out to be a 100 billion dollars that we'd flush down the crapper yet Japan can pull it off for 2.2 billion."
Doing anything in space with humans is extremely expensive. When the robots are finished you just let them deactivate because robots are expendable. You don't have to bring them back safely and than saves an enormous amount of weight that can either be used to slash the launch cost or to add many more robots and supplies to the payload.
It can be much cheaper to send 10 robots to do something risky, expecting only a couple of them to survive, than it is to send a single human and provide the necessary precautions.
Robots don't need food. Food is a problem, you have to bring it along and that's quite bulky. Even if you manage to recycle CO2, water, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium from human and plant wastes and grow food on the moon; the plants are still only going to be at most ~1% efficient at converting sunlight to food and they're going to need a pressurized and temperature controlled enclosure.
This is a nightmare compared to how you supply energy for robots. The whole base, including robots can simply hibernate whenever there's no energy; that makes solar panels practical even with very little storage. If you want continuous power for some reason you either just site the base near the lunar North pole and you're in permanent, low-angle sunlight or you bring a 10-30 kW reactor the size of a waste paper bin attached to two sterling engines and a heat sink.
You don't need to worry as much about temperatures as you do with a human mission. If there's some critical circuitry that needs to be kept at a reasonable temperature through the cold lunar night you simply add a little aerogel insulation and Radiothermal Heating Unit the size of your thumbnail to keep it warm.
@KH - With all due respect, that sort of cynical thinking is a large part of whats wrong with todays culture. you say we should just wait for the tech to develope? how will that work? according to your own arguments there is no need for the tech, and since technology almost never progresses without a need to fullfill, we will be waiting a good long time, unless humanity gets snuffed out by a big space rock in the mean time.
in order for the technology to develope people with vision, like the Japanese in this case, need to create that need. they have to set the goal and say "Get This Done." thats what happened in America in 1961 when JFK said America would land on the moon by the end of the decade. there was no need before he created one, and because of that artificial need, science and technology advanced by previously unthinkable leaps and bounds over the decades that followed.
in short, without creating an artificial need, without people with vision ignoring cynicism and reaching for the stars in spite of it, we will never leave this rock. we will never colonize other worlds, and the human race will eventualy end here on earth.
I completely agree with Abremms.
And to your comment above, you're right, I forgot about Kaguya. If anyone can do this with robotics, it's Japan.
"they have to set the goal and say "Get This Done." thats what happened in America in 1961 when JFK said America would land on the moon by the end of the decade. there was no need before he created one"
What happened in the 1960's is that the US and Russia really wanted to have the ability pelt each other with nuclear weapons from space and wanted to demonstrate their technological superiority.
The moonlanding itself was a secondary goal.
We can't have a space program anymore; Obama has NASA working on Global Warming mythology.
I find it funny that those who refer to global warming as mythology are so often those who don't find anything at all odd in the fact that they strongly believe in "bearded man in the sky" mythology.
But I digress...
I liked the idea that we don't get anything out of space exploration so much that I wrote it down with a ball point pen while lying on my memory foam mattress, considering things like computer technology, medicine, health care, agriculture, public safety, transportation, recreation, and industrial technology.
I suppose we really have no more need to go to space than we did to migrate out of Africa. That was a pretty stupid idea, too. Dangerous and wasteful, I say.
What's japanese for "All your base are belong to us"?
I find this discussion sort of interesting in the sense that people don't seem to realize that 2.2 billion is for the whole project, and NASA's 2010 budget is $18.69 billion (multiply that the 5 years for Japan to get their robot to the moon). Also the budget was increased not decreased by Obama and was directed to work on projects for Mars.
So even though I too feel like crying when I think of the Shuttle's retiring without a replacement, what people have to understand is the US is not getting out of space, it is just that there isn't money to do everything, and a decision was made to fund one kind of research over another. And they decided that Mars is and other projects are more interesting.
You guys are still thinking inside the box. What if the real intent of the Japanese is NOT to return ALL mined materials to Earth, and what says that Bots can't act as a production facility for crude materials? A decent sized hab underground, with plenty of materials and gases on hand-this would not be impossible now, and the Japanese could feasibly have a manufacturing facility suitable for humans in a few short years. This would allow for planning in materials composition to make the most out of the available resources.They could have a Lunar hotel, and that by itself is a huge moneymaker, especially if they hire American astronauts to make sure its safe. I for one see many potential possibilities with this plan, and other than wishing I were 10 years old again, I wish the Japanese efforts nothing but good fortune.
Now I'm thinking gel compounds for overlay on a stabilized regolith mortar over a heavier concrete-epoxy-resin also made as much as possible from native materials, using ice for structure shielding from radiation. However many 660 lb. bots is that much in leverage to move large slabs of structure material. I'd like to see a system that launches from here and is deliberately crashed into the moon to deliberately break it apart, then the bots reassemble it into a hab, if it's so impossible to launch a working one now. Or if there is sand, make a glass hab. NASA is quickly becoming the thing in the way, rather than the way to the stars. I see chemistry questions that NASA should already know the answers to, and creative application of engineering principles that NASA is supposed to have, in spades. NASA says upward of 100 billion' but I'm a machinist, and I know how much pork there is in every part they buy, and its more than alarming, people. Publish every bid, for every part of anything, going right down the middle of the bids from a NEWLY UPDATED list of suppliers, letting everyone know beforehand that this project is not moving astronauts at this time, so there ain't no pork involved, and I'd bet we could do it for under 10 bil. Which still allows pork, just not the whole gorge-n-purge thing they are accustomed to.
I do not think an orbital station on moon is out of date. Now I think mankind will have to find other habitable planets, an alternative to planet earth. That I believe is now the primary desire.
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Well people, for it being such an aggressive timeline, thats really the only way something ever gonna get done. cause think of it, if we hadn't been racing the russians to the moon, odds are it would have been another 20-30 years before we actually made it.
Personally i don't think japan will be able to pull it off in the time they allotted themselves, but with the mind numbing will that a lot of people in japan have, they'll be damn close. only way to make it better would be if some other country started working on a similar plan to compete with it.
Cause you know, coming from a country thats literally has a college to study the science behind things like the gundam anime, and probably a crapload of the people working on this project are graduates of that school, nothing more powerful then an anime fan trying to build something.
People People People! UNMANNED. an Unmanned moon "base" does not require life support. No need for air, food or waste removal systems. 2.2 billion is reasonable. Japan is very capable of producing Rockets that can achieve escape velocity. They put up satellites all the time. This is all it is, its just going a little further...but once again, they are NOT putting HUMANS on the moon. their MOONBASE is automated.
@ seatellite (2nd comment from top)
> white house is making this out to be a 100 billion dollars
> that we'd flush down the crapper yet Japan can pull it
> off for 2.2 billion.
Big difference when you're sending HUMANS up versus robots.
Also, I do think the Japanese have far underestimated the costs even with "just robots" going.
> let .. other country do the hard work then we'll [USA]
> take over after it will make money.
LOL!! That is EXACTLY what the Japanese did to the USA in the 1960's-80's. They let us waste US money to develop ideas, trial and error, and then after the idea is solid, then the Japanese take it and improve upon it.
Hey, Apple did it stealing Xerox's computer technology, and Microsoft stole what Apple made better.
Americans are TOO PROUD, it's not about WHO gets there first, it's about who can make it work efficiently.
Innovation is WONDERFUL, but there has to be a balance.
Let our partners also get some glory and at the same time waste their resources so we can benefit from their hard work, as so many of them have done from us.
> I know how much pork there is in every part [created for projects]
> ...its more than alarming
> Publish every bid, for every part of anything,
> list of suppliers, letting everyone know
> so there ain't .. pork involved, and I'd bet we could do
> it for under 10 bil.
> not the whole gorge-n-purge thing they are accustomed to.
YOU ARE BRILLIANT!
This should be done in ALL PUBLIC funding projects.
They should be required to post the proposals for at least a month so the public can review and criticize.
I'm thinking about my city and how each year we have some public official who hires his cousin to do a job. Like the common example, they buy 100 hammers for $80 each when any citizen buys a hammer for less than $20 -- and the project only requires 8 hammers anyways. By the way, why didn't they use the 8 hammers from the batch of hammers they bought the previous year!?!
It's all meant to generate paperwork that confuses and hides the REAL expenses, or should I say it hides the gouging.
Japan is a country with smart people. They do not need to develop a rocket to take their equipment to the moon. Russia certainly has the capability and would be happy to charge for that lifting capability.
Our only hope is to find entrepreneurs who understand the potential the technology will create. Forget NASA. The once proud agency is now too mired in Bureaucracy and legislators who cannot see beyond the next election - too bad for us.
what if Japan's plan were for the bots to prepare structural anchors so they can park an asteroid to mine, using the moon as a mining facility, but not actually mining the moon?
Think about it, Japan is materials poor, and that is the only thing keeping them from being known as the true power they are.