Australia could have its own locally-designed rover vehicle on the surface of the Moon by 2026 under a deal struck with NASA by the Australian government.
The project semi-autonomous rover will collect lunar soil that contains oxides, with NASA looking to extract oxygen from the soil as part of plans to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon that will also be a launchpad for missions to Mars.
The government is contributing $50 million towards the Trailblazer program in the Government’s Moon to Mars initiative, with Australian companies and researchers collaborating to develop the rover, which is expected to weigh about 20kg.
Australian Space Agency boss Enrico Palermo said the mission would demonstrate Australia’s skills and experience in remote operations, drawing from our expertise in the resources and mining sector.
“Australia is at the cutting-edge of robotics technology and systems for remote operations, which are going to be central to setting up a sustainable presence on the Moon and eventually supporting human exploration of Mars,” he said.
“This agreement will leverage our expertise in remote operations to grow our space sector here at home, while developments that come from preparing for space will make sure our resources sector keeps powering ahead too.”
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the deal will strengthen a relationship between Australia and New Zealand that goes back more than 50 years to the Apollo program.
“By working together with the Australian Space Agency and our partners around the world, NASA will uncover more discoveries and accomplish more research through the Artemis program,” he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison called it an incredible opportunity for Australia to succeed in the global space sector.
“By 2030, we want to triple the size of our space sector – adding $12 billion to our economy and creating up to 20,000 new, high-skilled jobs – providing more opportunities for Australians and industries,” he said.
“This mission to the Moon is just one exciting way that we can create opportunity and jobs for the future, and our Government will ensure Australians reap the benefits.”
Science and technology minister Melissa Price said the agreement heralds a new era for the Australian space sector.
“As well as putting Australia front and centre for scientific discoveries, our $50 million in support gives Australian businesses and researchers the opportunity to contribute to NASA’s mission to the Moon and beyond,” she said.
“It will build the Australian space sector’s capability and capacity and showcase Australia’s strengths to the world, as well as inspire a whole new generation of young people to enter careers in science, technology, engineering and maths.”
Under the deal, NASA could fly the Australian-made rover to the Moon as soon as 2026.
The Trailblazer program is expected to open later this year, with applications due in early 2022.