Japanese toymaker to deploy a rolling robot on the Moon

The LEV-2 robot will separate from Japan's SLIM lunar lander and capture images of the spacecraft and the landing zone.
Chris Young
LEV-2 during a demonstration.
LEV-2 during a demonstration.


If all goes according to plan, Japan's SLIM lunar lander, launched aboard an H-2A rocket on September 6, will be the first Japanese spacecraft to perform a soft landing on the lunar surface.

Once there, it will deploy an innovative robot explorer called the Lunar Excursion Vehicle 2 (LEV-2). LEV-2 is a small, spherical, metallic object a little larger than a tennis ball.

It will roll around the lunar surface, capturing images of the SLIM lander and a surrounding lunar crater, a press statement reveals.

Japan's tiny, rolling lunar rover

SLIM, the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, was developed by the Japanese space agency JAXA to perform the country's first soft lunar landing.

It was launched alongside the XRISM X-ray satellite, a next-generation observatory developed as part of a collaboration between NASA and JAXA.

SLIM is a small lander standing at 7.9 feet (2.4 meters) tall and with a width of 8.8 feet (2.7 meters). It weighs 1,300 pounds (590 kilograms), roughly two-thirds of which is made up of fuel.

The spacecraft will aim to land within the Shioli Crater – a 984-foot-wide (300 m) impact feature within Mare Nectaris on the near side of the Moon – at some point in early 2024.

SLIM will release LEV-2 from the lander roughly 5 feet, 11 inches (1.8 meters) above the lunar surface. The small robot, weighing 9 ounces (255 g), will then roll around and capture images of SLIM and the surrounding area.

Once deployed, the two halves of LEV-2 will separate and function as both legs and wheels, allowing the tiny probe to traverse the surrounding lunar regolith. The small robot features two cameras and a stabilizer between those two halves.

LEV-2 will beam its data back to Earth via LEV-1, a separate probe that will also land aboard SLIM. LEV-2's battery is expected to last roughly two hours.

Children's toys influence space exploration

LEV-2, also called Sora-Q, was developed by JAXA and Japanese toymaker Takara Tomy and was revealed to the world last year.

It is made out of a special type of aluminum and plastic that was specially designed to withstand the harsh temperatures on the Moon that swing from between -274F and 230F.

The video below, shared by Takara Tomy and with Japanese narration, shows how the robot will traverse the lunar surface.

In JAXA's press release, Hirano Daichi, the lead developer on the LEV-2 project, explained that children's toys provided a valuable reference point because of their simplicity.

"We adopted the robust and safe design technology for children's toys, which reduced the number of components used in the vehicle as much as possible and increased its reliability," Daichi said.

"This robot was developed successfully within the limited size and mass using the downsizing and weight reduction technologies and the shape changing mechanism developed for toys by TOMY and Doshisha University as well as the small and energy-efficient control board and camera developed by Sony Group," Daichi continued, adding that he hopes LEV-2 will serve as an inspiration for children who could become the future generation of space explorers.

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