Australia’s First Moon Mission Will Send a $50 Million Lunar Rover With NASA

Upgrading the country's contribution to the Artemis program.
Brad Bergan
A model of a German lunar rover, and the moon itself.1, 2

Even robots from down under are going to the moon.

Australia is kicking off its first-ever mission to the moon, investing $50 million to build an operational lunar rover as a part of NASA's Artemis project, according to a recent post on the nation's website.

While NASA will ultimately fly the rover to the moon, it could touch down as early as 2026.

Australia's ambition to expand its space industry

The most advanced researchers in Australia will collaborate with businesses to develop the forthcoming rover which so far has $50 million in backing from a program in the country's "Moon to Mars" initiative. The rover itself will be semi-autonomous, and will gather soil samples from the moon's surface, searching for oxides. And, employing separate equipment, NASA will use Australia's rover to extract oxygen from the lunar soil. This is a crucial step toward building a sustainable human presence on the moon, while securing the infrastructure needed to support forthcoming missions to Mars.

In other words, Australia is doing more than going to the moon — it's giving a hand to the international ambition to put humans on Mars.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the moon mission would also assist the country's economy amid the COVID-19 crisis, creating more job openings and employing people in need. "This is an incredible opportunity for Australia to succeed in the global space sector, and is central to our government's vision to secure more jobs and a larger share of the growing space economy," he said in the Australian government post. "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. Our government has invested more than $700 million in the civil space sector since July 2018, supporting core industries including manufacturing, robotics, engineering, mining and resources."

Australia's moon rover could reach the lunar surface by 2026

Morrison also said his government has invested more than $700 million in space industries since July 2018, and believes they support other ones, like robotics, mining, robotics, manufacturing, and resource extraction. "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." The country's Minister for Science and Technology Melissa Price thinks the rover project will herald a new day for Australia's space economy. "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," she said.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson praised the new deal, and emphasized Australia's historical role in space exploration, which stretches back 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 in the post. Of course, NASA will fly the rover to the moon, but it could land in 2026, assuming there are no snags in the development flow.

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