By | April 24, 2023
The Rashid rover will land on the Moon

If successful, this mission would be the first where a private company lands on a celestial body. Only agencies like the NASA, Russian space agency Roscosmos Or the Chinese space agency CNSA landed on the Moon and Mars. The stakes of the Hakuto-R mission are therefore immense from a commercial point of view: it is a question of validating the proof of concept of the private moon landing and the use of many advanced commercial technologies.

launch pad and rocket

A SpaceX Falcon9 rocket lifts off in 2020 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. SpaceX/ESA

For France, this is a great return to the Moon: the CASPEX cameras are the first French instruments sent to the Moon for 50 years.

I’scientific challenge is also major : Rashid will evolve on the surface of the moon in the Atlas crater, with many instruments allowing an extremely precise geological and mineralogical analysis.

Finally, the Hakuto-R lander will also drop on the lunar ground Sora-Q, a small transformable robot oval weighing 250 grams and 8 centimeters long, which has a camera and can move with ends that can be used as wheels.

Japan and its space robot that looks like BB-8 from Star Wars (The Huffington Post).

United Arab Emirates in space

Few countries are present on the Moon – the United Arab Emirates could soon be among the few nations on lunar soil. But the country already has a fairly strong presence in space and a strong space industry.

Their flagship mission orbits around Mars: it is “Hope”who is arrived around the red planet at the same time as the highly publicized American mission Mars2020 – who filed the Perseverance rover and that the Chinese Tianwen-1 mission. Hope remained in orbit around the planet Mars, where she studies its atmosphere and how oxygen and hydrogen escape into space.

Around the Earth this time, the United Arab Emirates have several satellites in low orbit, which make it possible to observe the Earth in high resolution – from this point of view, they have managed to develop in twenty years systems almost as sophisticated than the French systems. There Emirati space policy embraces the next 100 yearsunlike those of other countries which envisage much shorter time scales (about twenty years for NASA’s Artemis program).

The scientific missions of the Rashid rover

On the moon side, the Emirates are now preparing to land on the moon thanks to an exemplary collaboration in new space. Their Rashid rover, developed in Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centeris 70 centimeters high (mast deployed) and 50 centimeters side and contains several scientific instruments.

First of all, three “CASPEX” cameras developed in France, making it possible to obtain high resolution images (full HD) which will image the texture of the lunar soil (the “regolith”). One of them is equipped with a microscope of less than 100 micrometers of resolution, and the three cameras will see the ground in color, in the visible wavelengths, providing the first bricks of spectral information at a distance of only one meter (previous images taken from the ground, by the Apollo missions, were in black and white).

CASPEX: Moon objective! (CNES).

Then, Rashid contains an infrared camera for thermal imaging: it involves imaging the temperature of the ground and its variations to better understand the temperature inhomogeneities in the Atlas crater.

It is then a matter of studying the lunar dust rising from the surface because of the solar wind and electromagnetic radiation – a phenomenon called “electrostatic detachment” which has affected the Apollo missions because lunar dust seeps everywhere. Of the “Langmuir probes”or electrostatic probes, will therefore measure the electronic density of the plasma which causes the detachment of this dust.

Finally, polymers are attached to the wheels of the rover. The lunar regolith must adhere to these “tires”, which will allow it to be analyzed in more detail thanks to the cameras.

color image of atlas crater
The Atlas crater is the main landing site for the mission. 87 kilometers in diameter, it has fractured soil due to shallow magma intrusion. The landing area is indicated in pink and is located on volcanic deposits. CRPG/MBRSC/TUD

Rashid’s mission is a short-lived mission. Indeed, a lunar day lasts 14 terrestrial days, followed by 14 days during which it is dark, and we are not sure that the instruments will “wake up” after being deprived of solar energy for two of our terrestrial weeks.

The mission is coordinated on the ground by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Center, from where scientists, notably French, will work with engineers to select the geological terrains to be studied. For its part, the CNES operations center in Toulouse has set up a “ground segment” for the mission to process images from the rover, allowing image quality experts to calibrate the images to provide optimized data to the community. scientist.

Three French cameras on the Emirati rover, the story of a technological breakthrough in space imaging

In the early 2000s, CNES noted that the flagship image sensor technology used for space imaging missions, charge coupled devices (CCD), is becoming less and less durable in the face of the rise of CMOS image sensors which have now invaded the commercial market (smartphone, machine vision and automotive). I’advantage of CMOS technology lies in its miniaturization, their low power consumption and the possibility of adding advanced processing functions at the periphery of the pixels.

For qualify CMOS technology in space environment, many years of testing were required. One by one, the steps are validated and CMOS image sensors are essential for future space missions. In 2014, scientists are convinced and support CNES in the production of generic and highly integrated cameras using CMOS image sensors. In less than three years, a new generation of cameras is born, from the prototype to the flight model. This is the birth of CASPEX: CAmera for Space EXploration.

camera picture

A CASPEX camera. CNES/Thierry de Prada, CC BY

This camera equips the optical instrument of the first nanosatellite from CNES, Eyesat, launched at the end of 2019.

I’SuperCam instrument NASA’s Persevrance rover is also equipped with a CASPEX camera based on CMOS sensors. And with Rashid, CASPEX could soon be the first French camera to take high resolution images on the Moon.

Around 2024, the Franco-German-Japanese MMX mission will leave to seek to land on one of the moons of Mars, Phobos. Its rover will be equipped with four CASPEX cameras, two cameras for navigation by stereovision and two others for scanning the ground.

Finally, multispectral versions (with 9 and 25 color channels) will equip the future Rashid2 rover which should go to the Moon in 2025. A new version of CASPEX with a 4K sensor is also under development today and an infrared version of CASPEX will even see the light of day in 2023 to equip future space missions.

The Conversation

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