Japan will build a robotic moon base

There’s no technological reason why Japan shouldn’t be able to move forward with its ambitious plan to build a robotic lunar outpost by 2020 — built by robots, for robots. In fact, there’s really no nation better for the job in terms of technological prowess.

The Institute for the Future’s Mike Liebhold says, “There are private launch vehicles that are probably capable of doing that, and I think the robotics by that point are going to be quite robust.”

A Japanese government panel chaired by Katsuhiko Shirai, President of Waseda University, has developed a rough outline of the project. First, the robots, weighing about 660 pounds each, will begin by surveying the moon, taking images of the surface, collecting rocks, and returning the rocks to Earth via rocket for seismographic research. Later, robots will be sent to the moon to construct the lunar base for themselves.

According to the government panel, the robots and the unmanned moon base will be powered by solar panels. The robots will be controlled from Earth, but will also have a high degree of autonomy that enables them to operate on their own to perform certain tasks. Ultimately, the base could serve as a starting point for future robot colonizers, and even human colonizers.

Those initial surveyor bots will pave the way for the construction of the unmanned moon base near the lunar south pole, which the robots will construct for themselves. That base will be solar powered and provide a working/living space future robot colonizers, as well as — presumably — a jumping off point for future human moon dwellers.

Sound far-fetched? It’s certainly an ambitious project given the timeline. But considering Americans put actual men on the moon in a decade span with far inferior technology it certainly seems within the realm of possibility. Moreover, the massive technological fallout from that initial push for the moon was a boon for private industry, seeding some important and amazing technological breakthroughs. Even if Japan falls short of its 2020 deadline, the advances in robotics technology that could fall out of this little project could be as exciting as the moon base itself.

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