Japan’s recent launch of the SLIM lunar lander included a miniature lunar explorer inspired by a children’s toy.
Lunar Excursion Vehicle 2 (LEV-2) is a small metal ball, not much larger than a tennis ball. Once the moonIt will explode from the SLIM lander, turning both halves to traverse the soft regolith of the moon’s surface.
SLIM, the Japan Aerospace Agency’s Intelligent Lunar Exploration Probe JAXAIt was designed to demonstrate the country’s first soft landing on the moon. It was launched aboard an H-2A rocket on Wednesday (September 6) with a sister payload, the XRISM X-ray satellite.
Related: Japan launches the SLIM lunar lander and the X-ray telescope XRISM on a double spacecraft (video)
SLIM is a relatively small spacecraft, less than 9 feet (2.4 meters) in diameter, and will spend the next few months reaching lunar orbit. It will spend another month surveying its landing site inside the Moon’s Cheoli Crater.
Assuming the SLIM landing goes as planned, LEV-2 will lift off from the lander about 5 feet, 11 inches (1.8 meters) above the lunar surface, and begin rolling to image the SLIM landing and the surrounding area. The LEV-2’s battery power is expected to last for approximately two hours.
When the two halves of LEV-2 separate, they are able to act as legs and wheels to allow the small probe to move. Between the two halves are two cameras and a stabilizer used to help the LEV-2 navigate its surroundings. As it does this, it will send its data back to… Land Through LEV-1, a separate probe also on board SLIM, which will operate alongside SLIM and LEV-2.
The video below shows how LEV-2 will propel itself across the lunar surface (but note that the video is in Japanese only).
Hirano Daiichi developed LEV-2 at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, working with toy manufacturer Tomy and researchers at Doshisha University to design the lander with the same shape-changing mechanisms used in children’s toys, and with Sony Group to develop the cameras.
“We adopted the robust and safe design technology of children’s toys, reducing the number of components used in the vehicle as much as possible and increasing its reliability,” Daiichi explained in a JAXA press release. These technologies also helped reduce the size of the LEV-2 to meet the size constraints of flying on the SLIM lander.
“This robot has been successfully developed within the limited size and mass using size miniaturization, weight reduction and shape-changing toy mechanism developed by TOMY and Doshisha University as well as the small and energy-efficient control panel and camera developed by Sony Group,” Daiichi said, adding, he hopes children will be inspired by the ball. Small robot and they become interested in science.