The space race is all about rovers now. Aerospace startup Venturi Astrolab unveiled its modular rover called FLEX, short for Flexible Logistics and Exploration. The startup designed the FLEX to take on a ton of different uses, like transporting people, carrying payloads, doing exploration or land surveys, and whatever else is needed to ensure humanity’s survival on the Moon, Mars, or beyond.
After the touchdown of NASA’s Perseverance Rover on Mars went viral, we’re all pretty familiar with rovers and what they do. But, most rovers were designed with a specific purpose in mind, like the Perseverance Rover that was tasked with finding signs of life and collecting rock and soil samples. But Venturi Astrolab wants its FLEX rover to be ubiquitous for when humanity eventually has economies in space.
The startup is trying to get into the space market while it’s still very new, but there are already been a bunch of other companies dabbling in expanding beyond Earth. In the same vein of extraterrestrial transport, Toyota is working on a manned rover alongside the Japan Exploration Agency. Even Nokia is getting involved in space by trying to set up 4G coverage on the moon.
All-in-one rover — Venturi Astrolab says in its recent guide for the FLEX that it has tested a full-scale proof-of-concept version of the rover on Earth. The FLEX can hold payloads more than three cubic meters in size and as much as 1,000 kilograms in mass, or around 2,200 pounds, on its underside or the top of its chassis.
The design of the FLEX features a wheel-on-limb system that lets it raise and lower its ground clearance so it can navigate the difficult and rocky terrain of the Moon or Mars. The rover has several built-in sensors so it can avoid any obstacles. In terms of powering the rover, Venturi Astrolab built a deployable solar array onto the FLEX so it can keep its batteries topped up or stowed away when not needed.
At the front of the FLEX, there’s a robotic arm that can be programmed for any scientific or logistics tasks and a mast with stereo cameras that lets it see the area in 3D. The rover has a gimbaling antenna so it can maintain its connection to Earth.
Testing underway — Venturi Astrolab has been testing its rover in the California desert, according to a report by The Verge. The startup also invited government, academic and commercial entities to partner for the design and field testing of the FLEX rover.
There are no details on pricing yet, but Venturi Astrolab told The Verge that they plan on charging for the services provided by the FLEX, not for the individual rovers themselves.