Dresden-based motorcycle think tank Hookie has its eyes set on the moon. The company developed a drivable prototype for a two-wheeled lunar exploration vehicle. Named the Tardigrade, the vehicle is much lighter than your traditional moon buggy, meaning that the concept would be more cost-effective to launch to space.
"A moon buggy requires almost the same space as 3-4 Tardigrades," Nico Müller, one of Hookie's co-founders told us in an email interview. "The weight is much less than that of a complete buggy made out of steel."
A two-wheeled moon buggy rival
Weight is important in our resurgent space age. With current technologies, transporting a 1kg payload to orbit costs approximately $2,720 meaning that every kilogram counts, especially when it comes to going to the moon and beyond. By using lightweight materials, and dispensing with two wheels, Hookie designed a lunar e-motorcycle that weighs 308 lbs (140 kg) — for reference, the lunar roving vehicle, or moon buggy, used for NASA's lunar landings weighed 463 lbs (210 kg).
The Tardigrade, named after the incredibly resilient animal capable of withstanding harsh space conditions, was inspired by a digital design made by Russian artist Andrew Fabishevskiy in 2020. With the permission of the artist, Hookie co-founders Nico and Sylvia Müller set out to make a real-world prototype of the machine.
According to Niko Müller, not needing to pass Germany's strict motorcycle TUV technical inspection for their moon bike opened up the design process to a host of possibilities. "No TUV means we were able to focus on simple functionality, materials, and the weight," he said. "On our Tardigrade, we had the opportunity to work with brands like Dupont - Kevlar, and Cake together. Authenticity for every detail was the goal in the design process."
Making a moon bike
The result is a moon motorcycle consisting of an invisible frame made of ten millimeter-thin, laser-cut aluminum and axles that were also made using ultra-light metal. The frame is wrapped with an exoskeleton made of tubing, while a Kevlar cover with aluminum coating was provided by NASA supplier DuPont to protect the drivetrain from space radiation, minor impacts, and the harsh cold of the moon. The electric drivetrain, meanwhile, was provided by the Swedish firm Cake, which is known for its sustainable range of e-bikes.
The "biggest challenge", according to a Hookie press statement, was the construction of the Tardigrade's two balloon wheels. The ultra-light, 24 x 7-inch alloy wheels were constructed out of several smaller parts. Hookie developed the air-less tires by 3D printing 12 polyurethane tread modules for each wheel, before securing them onto the motorbike's rims. At the same time as meeting the Tardigrade's airless tire requirements, the system allows for the easy replacement of individual damaged parts and also adds in-built redundancy.
Though Hookie doesn't have a deal in place with any space agency, Niko Müller told us that "NASA knows about our Tardigrade project [and] it would be amazing to talk about future collaborations or ideas. We're totally up for this." With NASA setting its sights for another moon landing and a constant lunar presence from around 2025, the thought of a moon motorcycle making it into the iconic space agency's plans isn't completely out of this world.