If you want to ride around on the moon with a flex, Venturi Astrolab has the perfect rover to sell or rent to you. It will even lift supplies or other cargo for you.
Astrolab, a space startup, has released details about its new interplanetary rover that will move cargo and people on the moon’s surface. If everything goes well, the rover will perform the same trick on Mars.
The rover is named FLEX, which stands for Flexible Logistics and Exploration. Astrolab is pitching at NASA and commercial companies, meaning you stand a chance of purchasing one of these vehicles.
FLEX is quite flexible and can lower itself to pick up payloads with its underbelly and move them to another location. Thanks to its modular design, the rover is not a one-trick pony, as it can lift different types of objects. However, the payload must fit some specifications in size and shape.
Astrolab’s rover can move semi-autonomously, be controlled from a command center, or be driven by astronauts who can hitch a ride on the surface of the moon.
The company wants to take advantage of the renewed interest in moon exploration. NASA has announced its plans to start sending astronauts to the moon again and start with female and black astronauts with its Artemis program. SpaceX got the contract of designing a lander for the mission, and the company is working on its Starship spacecraft for the job.
The CEO of Astrolab, Jaret Matthews, told The Verge, “Companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are solving the long haul transportation problem, and we want to solve the local transportation problem — and ultimately set the standard for lunar logistics.”
Matthews is a veteran when it comes to rovers. He worked on the Spirit and Opportunity rovers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory before moving to SpaceX. He helped build the Crew Dragon spacecraft and the docking technology with the International Space Station. He eventually co-founded Astrolab, where he is now working on out-of-the-world taxis.
Yes, taxis, because Astrolab plans to charge for using FLEX instead of selling units. “We want to be the UPS, FedEx, and the Uber of the Moon,” Matthew said.
Astrolab already has a working prototype, but of course, it is not being tested on the moon yet. FLEX is being put through its paces in the California desert near Death Valley. It has picked up and delivered payloads. It has even been driven by an actual astronaut, Chris Hadfield, an advisor to the company.
The company decided to use a modular design so that FLEX could carry as much cargo as possible. Matthews reveals they are following the pattern set by the shipping industry that uses standard containers for fast and easy cargo processing globally and wants to replicate it on the moon. “You have all those containers kind of move seamlessly through the global supply chain, and that’s a really efficient model where all this infrastructure is designed to work together. So we think that approach makes sense to take forward to the Moon and Mars.”
Meanwhile, the current prototype is built to earth’s standard, but the final product will function on the harsh terrain of the moon. FLEX has to endure what is known as lunar night, a brutal two-week period that will see temperatures dropping below -208 degrees Fahrenheit or -130 degrees Celsius.
FLEX will also be able to launch on different types of rocket vehicles. Astrolab is already in talks with NASA on how the rover can fit into Project Artemis, although actual landing on the moon has all but been postponed to 2026.