A Hong Kong engineer is celebrating today after winning a global “X-Prize“-style contest to design components to the new European Space Agency (ESA) Lunar Cargo Vehicle.
Researcher Agnes Lau created a new brake pad material that can withstand the high temperature ranges of space and the abrasive lunar dust, for use in the ESA’s first “space cargo bike”, a machine that will deploy as part of Europe’s first manned lunar mission in 2028.
Lau will be present at a virtual award ceremony broadcast from London at 12 noon BST. Ahead of the event, Karl Bruun, Head of Future Vehicle Strategy at Danish space agency DTU, says he expects the ESA’s bike, dubbed the yderrumcykelrover by engineers, to revolutionise off-planet transport thinking.
“Ahead of the original moon landing in 1969, a Dutch proposal for a maanfiets – or space bike – was laughed away by NASA engineers,” says Bruun. “They said, ‘Hey, the moon is not Amsterdam’, and the designs were neglected.”
“But this is our own project, so of course we’re applying European thinking to our operations. We hope to prevent mistakes made on earth by promoting environmentally-friendly human-powered transport at this early stage of lunar development.”
The yderrumcykelrover design owes much to the familiar earth-bound bakfiets, says Bruun: its human propulsion lowers weight and eliminates most component failure risk, while a titanium chain and pedals that clip onto moonboots enhance astronauts’ range and comfort on longer missions.
Not everybody is happy about the news. “We’re concerned that these things will cause accidents and congestion,” said Lt Cmdr Huff Smidsy, of President Donald Trump’s new Space Force. “We’ve got around 80 Lunar Modules of our own to land by 2032. If these bakfiets are hoarding all the flat corridors, we’ll need to divert almost all of our landers to just one side-orbit, there’s going to be serious landing congestion. And I’m concerned our astronauts may not see these bikes on the lunar routes, they’ve got very low side profile… in space, nobody can see something so narrow, collisions will occur.”
The ESA is undeterred by criticisms, with plans to put at least 20 of the bikes on the lunar surface in the next two decades and even install yderrumcykelrover corrals to share with other space agencies.
Lau’s brake pads will be fitted to the yderrumcykelrover complete with her signed name laser-etched onto the reverse, a prize she values above the cash award. “It’s going to be a thrill to look up at the full moon and know they’re up there,” she said. “And I just know they’re going to be racing these things… we’re looking at a whole new planet of KOMs – that’s a giant leap for mankind!”
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