The launch of Astrobotic's Peregrine moon lander, which aims to become the first private lunar mission to successfully land on the moon, has captured the attention of the entire world. Regretfully, a serious propellant leak was brought on by a propulsion malfunction. NASA claims that as a result, Peregrine won't make a soft landing on the Moon. For the projects on board, though, there is still hope. As it happens, Peregrine is carrying Colmena, the first Moon mission ever launched by Mexico. And despite the obstacles, the project has already produced several successes.
The five autonomous micro-robots in the Colmena mission each weigh two ounces and have a diameter of only four inches. Colmena, which translates to "beehive" in Spanish, alludes to the worker bee's workflow and suggests that these microscopic gadgets are prepared to function as a unit. The project was first proposed to Astrobiotic in 2015 and was chosen along with 19 other NASA, UK, Japan, and German projects. It was developed by the Laboratory of Special Instruments (LINX) at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). After nine years, the mission has finally been completed with the help of 250 students who assisted in building the robots.
Their size is the key to their success. Head of LINX and leader of the Colmena mission Gustavo Medina told El País that no device this small has ever been used in space. This is what attracted Astrobotic's attention and could change the game going forward.
“Instead of sending a large machine to extract a mineral, which costs a lot and if it breaks down everything is lost, we can send 100,000 tiny robots; and if one dies, nothing happens,” he explains. “The project can resist. That's the philosophy.”
What Medina refers to as a "cookie package" encloses the robots and serves as a catapult in the future. The robots would be launched 30 to 50 feet away from the lander by the catapult since there is nothing to offload them from, which would allow them to get away from the lander's shadow and enable them to get coordinates from where their friends landed so they could resume their work.