Can oxygen be extracted from soils on the Moon? That’s the question destined to be answered by a lunar rover built in Australia, with large implications for humanity’s potential future on the Moon’s barren landscape, as well as perhaps Mars.
Early next year, the federal government will take bids from Australian businesses for up to $50 million to build the rover, before it’s sent over to NASA to take care of the small issue of transportation. Speaking with ABC Radio Perth, Federal Minister for Science and Technology Melissa Price said the actual trip to the Moon is expected to take place “as early as 2026”.
Until the tender process is over we won’t know who’ll get the ~$50 million contract, but Price has already name-dropped her own division of Durack:
…you know, from my own electorate in Durack and in the Pilbara, we know that we’ve already got the technology. So, you know, that will depend on who ultimately gets the contract.
Because, as you know, we already have those, effectively, remotely operated equipment in the Pilbara, and this is the exact- you know, we- but they’re actually operated from Perth, and people will understand only so well here in Western Australia. But that is exactly the sort of technology that we will need to make sure our Aussie rover ends up on the Moon.
Far be it from me to ever question our Blue Tribe overlords, but a cynic may look at the LNP’s history of pork-barrelling and see cause for concern. Though Price also said it needn’t be one organisation or state – it could be a coalition of researchers and scientists from all over the country.
Some specifications of the rover are already known. It’ll need to be no heavier than 20kg and semi-autonomous, with capabilities for remote operation, soil pick-up and analysis.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he hoped to “triple the size of our space sector, adding $12 billion to our economy and creating up to 20,000 new, high-skilled jobs” by 2030. This would be in line with previous efforts to expand our space capabilities.
The program will mark the first time Australian technology and hardware is used on the Moon.
Price’s working title for the rover is Red Dog, but says there will be a competition to name it. So we can probably bet on variations of Bruce, Barry, Sheila or the quintessential Rovey McRoveface.