It was inspired by children's toys.
Moon Ball Drop
Japan is hoping to follow up India's successful landing on the surface of the Moon early next year — and helping it along will be a tennis ball-shaped rover that's giving us just a little bit of the same energy as BB-8 from the Star Wars movies.
Once roughly six feet above the dusty lunar surface — that is, if the lander makes it that far in one piece — it'll release the 8.8-ounce spacecraft, which will then move both of its halves separately to crawl through the regolith, a fantastical concept that directly draws from the design of children's toys.
Think of it more as a tech demo. LEV-2's batteries only allow it to explore the area for two hours. However, the benefits of its unusual shape are substantial and could inspire future rovers.
"We adopted the robust and safe design technology for children's toys, which reduced the number of components used in the vehicle as much as possible and increased its reliability," said Hirano Daichi, senior researcher and developer of the vehicle at JAXA, in a statement.
The space agency teamed up with toy maker TOMY and Doshisha University to come up with the design. Japanese tech giant Sony came up with the control board and stabilized camera, nestled between its two half-sphere legs.
But before LEV-2 can start rolling off into the distance, JAXA has the difficult task of navigating its SLIM probe to lunar orbit and making its descent, a harrowing journey that a growing number of countries have failed to survive in recent years.
Nonetheless, Daichi and his colleagues are hopeful.
"I hope children will get interested in science generally, not limited to space science, by seeing the baseball-sized vehicle running while swinging left and right on the Moon," he said in the statement.
If you want your own LEV-2, TOMY's Sora-Q is a 1:1 model of the LEV-2 and can be bought for roughly $150.
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