Concept: The European Space Agency (ESA) has begun testing an autonomous robot called DAEDALUS (Descent And Exploration in Deep Autonomy of Lunar Underground Structures). It is designed to explore the depths of lunar caves and underground lava tubes on the Moon or other extraterrestrial domains such as asteroids or planets that require high autonomy.
Nature of Disruption: DAEDALUS is a 46-cm-diameter spherical robot equipped with an immersive stereoscopic camera, a LiDAR system for 3D mapping of cave interiors, temperature sensors, and a radiation dosimeter. The robotic sphere also includes extendible arms that can be used to clear obstructions and investigate the characteristics of rocks. It will be dropped into the cave opening on a lengthy rope, then disconnected to roll away independently, as per ESA. The suspended cable would then function as a Wi-Fi receiver, allowing DAEDALUS to communicate its findings outside of the pit. The sphere-shaped probe was created by a team led by Germany’s Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) and is being examined by the ESA’s Concurrent Design Facility as part of a broader study of lunar cave mission concepts. It will be dropped into the cave opening on a long cable, then disconnected to roll away autonomously. The suspended cable would then function as a Wi-Fi receiver, allowing DAEDALUS to communicate its results outside of the pit.
Outlook: According to the agency, lunar orbiters have previously mapped several deep pits on the Moon’s surface that are of interest to scientists. The locations have not yet been explored, but it is assumed that they provide access to pristine lunar material — maybe even water ice deposits. Furthermore, the organization suggests that the caves might serve as habitats for lunar colonists, providing natural protection against radiation, micrometeorites, and surface temperature fluctuations. There is currently no information on when DAEDALUS would roll around the Moon. If that happens, it would most likely take many years before the robots are ready for usage there.