Space startup Stells wants to put spacecraft-charging covers on the Moon • TechCrunch

Mobile power bank first came in 2001, and since then, many mobile phone users can charge. Now, a new space agency wants to take the idea of ​​mobile charging to the moon — not for cellphones, of course, but for rovers and landers.

Toronto-based Stells, founded by CEO Alex Kapralov and CTO Vital Ioussoupov in 2021, is developing a rover called the Mobile Power Rover (MPR-1) that can provide power to the Lunar spacecraft by electric charge. The company has set a launch date of November 2024 via a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and an Intuitive Machines lander, with a landing on the moon in January 2025.

Stells was initially interested in the lunar mining industry, specifically in craters. But preliminary research has shown that power costs for a drilling rover may be prohibitive. That inspired the MPR-1. “Why don’t we give power to other people so they can have redundancy in their power supply?” Kapralov told TechCrunch.

Most airplanes get their power from one of two sources: solar panels and Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTG). Solar panels, of course, only work in places where there is sunlight – deep holes do not. Solar panels also require a lot of surface area. With rovers the size of vehicles, such as those on Mars, is not a problem. But the next generation of moon rovers is much smaller. For example, NASA is building Called Cooperative Autonomous Distributed Robotic Explorers the size of shoeboxes.

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RTG does not rely on sunlight, but uses the radioactive decay of plutonium-238 to generate electricity. The technology is, arguably, very expensive, and may not be affordable for small rovers.

Given the current push for lunar missions – Artemis 1, for example, launched with four CubeSats destined for the moon (with six other heads elsewhere) – the MPR is possible -1 to be the most useful.

An image of a black hole mining operation, with power coming from the sun at the edge.

“The way we plan to deliver power is to use a box called a WCB, or WCB,” Kapralov said. The WCB will use the power through solar panels—if it’s a pit, it’ll put the stuff on the side of the pit, then run electrical lines up to the pit floor, where the WCB posted.

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The WCB will then store that power in its batteries, and then quickly distribute it to other rovers via electronic charging. Those rovers, which require a special wireless charging port compatible with the WCB, can control the WCB using beacon or visual control. With no space to degrade the power signal, this process is better than earth.

Kapralov also believes that the WCB will be able to go to the lunar spacecraft that is powered to provide a payload, although it is difficult for a future mission. The first mission was a technical demonstration for the WCB.

Now, Stells is building prototypes and testing them on Earth—and it’s self-funded. “But we will probably start closer to the beginning of next year to try to secure some funds for the development and the start of the flight,” said Kapralov.

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In the past two decades, there has been a lot of effort to explore the moon, and while development has been growing, the results have been few and far between. Google’s Lunar Xprize competition, for example, has awarded companies developing lunar rovers a grand prize of $20 million. The competition started in 2007 and has a 2014 deadline for landing on the moon; when it became clear that nothing would be ready in 2014, that deadline was pushed back, until 2018.

Although five companies secured startup contracts, Google ended the competition without a win. Those companies’ Moon Express and Team Indus have had their contracts terminated, while Hakuto/ispace and Synergy Moon are still working on the startup. A fifth company, SpaceIL, launched on the moon in 2019, but failed its landing test.

However, the development of the lunar industry continues, and many missions are closer to reality than before. Nothing is guaranteed – there is fertile ground for poor performance. But the moon is the limit for many companies like Stells who hope to get there.

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