The portable power bank first hit the market in 2001, and since then charging on the go has become available to most mobile device users. Now a new space company wants to bring the concept of mobile charging to the moon – not for cell phones, of course, but for all-terrain vehicles and landers.
Founded in 2021 by CEO Alex Kapralov and CTO Vitaly Yusupov in 2021, Toronto-based Stells is developing the Mobile Power Rover (MPR-1) rover that will be able to power lunar spacecraft using wireless charging. The company has set a launch date for November 2024. using SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Intuitive machines lander with pre-landing on the Moon in January 2025.
Stells was initially interested in the lunar drilling industry, especially lunar craters. But early research has shown that a power source for a drilling rover is likely to be prohibitively expensive. This inspired the MPR-1. “Why don’t we just provide power to others so they can have a backup power source?” It is reported by TechCrunch Kapralov.
Most spacecraft are powered by one of two sources: solar arrays and radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs). Solar panels, of course, only work in places that get sunlight—deep craters don’t always get sunlight. Solar panels also require a large surface area. With car-sized rovers like the Mars ones, this is not a problem. But the next generation of rovers will be much smaller. NASA, for example, is developing what it calls cooperative autonomous distributed exploration robots that will be the size of a shoebox.
On the other hand, the RTG does not depend on the sun, instead it uses the radioactive decay of plutonium-238 to generate electricity. This technology is, unsurprisingly, quite expensive and may not be viable for smaller rovers.
Given the current push for lunar projects — such as Artemis 1 launched with four CubeSats destined for the Moon (along with six others heading elsewhere) — the MPR-1 could be quite useful.
“We plan to supply power using a box we call a wireless charging box, or WCB,” says Kapralov. WCB will use solar panels to power it – in the case of a lunar crater, it will place them on the rim of the crater and then run power lines to the bottom of the crater where the WCB will be placed.
The WCB will then store that energy in its batteries and then quickly distribute it to other rovers using wireless charging. Those rovers that need a dedicated WCB-compatible wireless charging port will be able to navigate to the WCB using a beacon or visual navigation. Without the atmosphere to weaken the wireless network signal, this process would be much more efficient than on Earth.
Kapralov also hopes that the WCB can reach the depleted lunar spacecraft to provide a charge for launch, although this is a problem for a future mission. The first mission will simply be a technology demonstration for the WCB.
So far, Stells has been building prototypes and testing them on Earth, all at its own expense. “But we will probably start closer to the beginning of next year to try to find funds to develop and launch the flight,” says Kapralov.
There has been a significant push towards lunar exploration over the past two decades, and while development is well underway, results have been minimal. For example, in the Google Lunar Xprize competition, companies developing lunar rovers received a grand prize of $20 million. The competition began in 2007 and the deadline for landing on the moon is 2014; when it became clear that no one would be ready by 2014, the deadline was extended to 2018.
Although five teams ended up with launch contracts, Google ended the contest without a winner. These teams’ contracts with Moon Express and Team Indus have been terminated, while Hakuto/ispace and Synergy Moon are still working on launching. The fifth team, SpaceIL, launched to the Moon in 2019, but his landing attempt failed.
However, the lunar industry continues to evolve, with more missions closer to reality than ever before. Nothing is guaranteed – there is fertile ground for well-intentioned failure. But the moon is the limit for dozens of companies like Stells hoping to get there.