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5 things you should know about Australia's $50 million lunar rover

·3-min read
The view of earth from the surface of the moon.
Australia will be part of it's very own lunar mission after signing an agreement with NASA (Source: Getty/NASA)

Australia has signed a deal with NASA to build a rover that will be sent to the Moon to collect rocks and oxygen.

And while that might sound a bit mundane, there is a purpose to these space missions, of which this will be Australia’s first.

Here is a breakdown of the Moon mission and what you need to know.

1. There are 82 human-made things on the Moon right now

The Australian rover will not be the only artificial item on the Moon's surface, and in fact most previous missions have left a part of themselves behind.

This includes other rovers, and many Russian and US orbiters, as well as of course some remains from the Apollo missions, where humans walked on the Moon for the first time.

Many ortibers have purposely crashed onto the surface of the Moon when they’re no longer useful, but that does mean humans have been leaving quite a mess up there.

You can see a complete list of the items currently on the Moon as well as their exact locations.

2. The Australian rover has a big mission

The rover will be semi-autonomous, meaning it will be able to somewhat drive itself. It’s job will be to collect lunar soil, which is known as regolith.

Regolith contains oxygen in the form of oxides, which NASA wants to extract to help with establishing a human presence on the Moon and help with future missions to Mars.

3. The project is estimated to cost the same as the first rover

The Australian rover is expected to cost around $50 million, which is up there in terms of rover costs.

The first lunar rover also ended up costing around $50 million (US$38 million), despite initial estimates it would be around $25 million (US$19 million).

The Australian project will be supported by the Federal Government’s Moon to Mars program and is expected to take off in 2026.

4. The Moon is not the limit for this rover

The purpose of these space missions is to set up a so-called ‘moon base’ where humans could stop, refuel and prepare for the next leg of the journey to Mars.

As part of NASA’s Artemis exploration plan, the agency wants to “establish the first long-term presence on the Moon” at the Artemis base camp.

It’s intended the Australian-made rover will be part of that mission.

“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,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

5. Australia’s space program is still very fresh

The Australian space program was only launched in 2018 and has six main goals:

  1. Providing national policy and strategic advice on the civil space sector

  2. Coordinating Australia's domestic civil space-sector activities

  3. Supporting the growth of Australia's space industry and the use of space across the broader economy

  4. Leading international civil space engagement

  5. Administering space-activities legislation and delivering on our international obligations

  6. Inspiring the Australian community and the next generation of space entrepreneurs

Funding for the program was laid out in the 2018 Budget, which set aside $26 million over four years to establish the Australian Space Agency, and another $15 million for international space investment in 2019.

This investment in comparison to others around the world is rather small. For example, in the United States’ most recent Budget, NASA will get a US$28 billion ($33.8 billion) boost in 2022.

Bonus fact: Objects which orbit the moon, like satellites, are also known as moonmoons.

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