Humankind has been long curious about the mysteries of the universe. Since the first satellite was launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, we have continually gained a better understanding of space by supporting exploration and technological innovation of advanced tools. And still, our knowledge is limited. We only know about 4 percent of our universe. So how do we go about uncovering the rest?
At ANA, we’re striving to solve this problem by teaming up with the best innovators in the world – which is why we are so thrilled to work alongside JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) on the formation of Avatar X.
By joining forces with technology pioneers like JAXA, we can break through the inherent barriers of space exploration. In 2016, JAXA began collaborating with construction company Kajima Corporation and three Japanese universities — Shibaura Institute of Technology, the University of Electro-Communications and Kyoto University — to develop a remote construction system that utilizes remote-controlled avatars to build a moon base, with little to no human supervision. After three years of research and development, we are beginning to see a bright future, one where avatars are the construction workers of space.
Advancing the future of humanity
Using avatars to build a moon base demands considerable resources of time, money, people, research and, of course, robot capabilities. So why are JAXA and its partners so keen on setting up a base at the moon? While space tourism would allow us to view the Northern Lights from outer space, building a moon base using autonomous avatars would have enormous implications on the future of space exploration.
For example, a permanent moon base would help drastically ease travel to Mars, giving humanity more time to research the feasibility of life on our neighboring planet. More immediately, the base could enable JAXA to conduct more research missions in space, such as the successful touchdown on the Itokawa asteroid made by the Hayabusa spacecraft several years ago. Despite numerous complications, the craft eventually returned with a sample from the asteroid’s surface for scientists to study, a mission that one NASA official described as “beyond remarkable.”
In addition to changing the limits of space exploration, the base will also create an influx of corporate innovation that can help change society for the better. One concept that has originated in Japan is known as the LUNA RING —a solar panel concept involving the use of avatars to help power the Earth with clean energy. Developed by the Shimizu Corporation, the LUNA RING project envisions a small army of robotic workers, teleoperated from Earth, that would construct a huge ring of solar panels along the 11,000-kilometer equator. A team of astronauts would support the robots on-site, according to the plan.
Building the moon base
Building a moon base that can act as a livable habitat for humans inherently has its complexities. That’s why the collaborators have divided the project into four phases. Phase one involves preparing the site for human habitation. Next, the site will need to be excavated to ensure the base is built at the required depth.
After the moon’s surface has been dug up, avatars can begin installing the module and making it safe against the dangers the universe presents. For instance, meteoroids — or space rocks —fly through space at such high speeds that striking the moon base could allow oxygen to escape. The final phase involves shielding the base with regolith, commonly known as moon dust. This shield will not only protect the structure from being damaged but also protect humans from severe levels of radiation from the sun, according to JAXA officials.
Testing the feasibility
Testing is a foundational element for any technological development. After three years of comprehensive research, the group recently performed an experiment where a seven-ton autonomous backhoe conducted its tasks on the testing grounds. The experiment took place at the Kajima Seisho Experiment Site in Odawara and involved procedures such as driving a specified distance and repeating routine operations.
In addition, to testing full automation capability, the experiment also set out to establish remote construction functionality, in the event certain tasks are too complex to rely solely on autonomous robots. The result: we can build a lunar base using avatars. “The operational process has shown the feasibility of the unmanned technologies to build a lunar base,” JAXA officials said.
Despite the team’s optimism, the project is an enormous undertaking of manpower and cost. To make these meteoric investments pay off, Japanese innovators are going to need to develop some breakthrough innovations that can have a long-lasting societal impact. At ANA, we believe efforts like this are the only way to advance humankind – and we can’t wait to see an avatar in a construction hat.