Startup Building Power-delivering Lunar Rover: A Canadian start-up is working on a rover that will be sent to the moon in the next several years to serve as a power source for astronauts operating other spacecraft there.
On November 21st, Toronto-based firm STELLS revealed its ambitions to create the Mobile Electricity Rover (MPR), a rover that can produce power from its solar arrays and distribute that power through wireless charging to other vehicles on the lunar surface. By 2025, the company plans to have its MPR-1 rover sent to the moon’s south pole as a payload aboard an Intuitive Machines lander.
Alex Kapralov, CEO of STELLS, explained in an interview that the firm was founded so that he could build a rover specifically for research purposes. For craters near the lunar poles, “we encountered challenges in terms of power and mobility for small and medium-sized rover and even human missions to be able to receive enough power,” he added.
He said that deploying a radioisotope thermoelectric generator on the company’s rover was briefly investigated, but ultimately abandoned due to technical and policy hurdles. This business, however, has opted to focus on developing a solar-powered rover that can provide other vehicles operating on the lunar surface with energy.
Rover will move to the customer’s vehicle and transmit electricity wirelessly. An alternative strategy involves leaving the wireless charging unit in the crater and repositioning the rover so that it is in direct sunlight, at which point it may create electricity and send it by cable to the charging unit, which other vehicles can then use.
Kapralov stated that the business has finished the rover’s prototype and is now working on a “proto-flight” variant. The MPR-1 rover, weighing in at around 30 kilos, is intended largely as a demonstration, but he anticipates some commercial usage of its power transfer capabilities.
He remarked, “We are contemplating collaborations with those who are going with us on the lander,” albeit no contracts had been signed at the time.
STELLS isn’t the only firm looking at installing a power grid on the moon. In September, Astrobotic launched LunaGrid, a project that would bring together the company’s work on lunar rovers with the independent development of vertical solar arrays tailored for usage at the lunar poles. Power would be transported to consumers through tethered rovers.
The rover in Kapralov’s firm generates its own electricity, he says, making the process easier. He also said that STELLS is in negotiations with Astrobotic to send a rover on one of the company’s future lander missions; Astrobotic is listed on STELLS’ website as a partner, alongside Intuitive Machines.
Kapralov’s resume includes a stint as CEO of ad tech firm Pixfuture, so it’s not surprising that he’s well-versed in the IT sector. He claimed, “I was constantly thinking about the space industry,” and that a chat with an employee who had worked in the space sector convinced him that a mission like a lunar rover was “difficult but achievable” was what prompted him to launch STELLS.
He mentioned that there are currently around 20 people working with STELLS in their Toronto office. Kapralov is now footing the bill for the business through his holding company, but he has stated his intention to seek external financing and government contracts to finance future endeavors.
He did not reveal an estimate for the cost to construct and launch MPR-1 but did say that transportation to the moon would be the biggest expense: around $1 million per kilogram, or $30 million for a 30-kilogram rover.
“The process of constructing the rover itself is not really novel,” he explained. The most important thing is to keep things manageable and bearable for yourself and your loved ones. That’s where our attention is right now.
Only a week before the MPR-1 announcement, the Canadian Space Agency had revealed that it had given Canadensys Aerospace Corporation a contract worth $43 million Canadian ($32 million US) to construct a rover capable of transporting six separate scientific instruments.
No sooner than 2026 will that rover travel to the moon on a NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services mission. According to Kapralov, STELLS did not apply for the Canadian Space Agency mission even though the company has been developing a scientific lunar rover.
“Every time I speak with people from the space industry and explain to them our project, they support it,” he said. “They see that all of these missions need power. They need to have redundancy for their missions. They want to go further and we want to go further with them and provide them with power.”