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

The portable power bank first appeared on the scene in 2001, and since then, charging on the go has become a possibility for many mobile device users. Now, a new space company wants to bring the concept of cell phone charging to the moon — not for cell phones, 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 will be able to provide power to a lunar spacecraft through wireless charging. The company has secured a November 2024 launch date for the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the Intuitive Machines lander, with a January 2025 landing on the moon.

Stells was initially interested in the lunar mining industry, particularly in lunar craters. But previous research proved that the power source for the drilling rover could be very expensive. That inspired the MPR-1. “Why can’t we just give power to others so that they lose power?” Kapralov tells TechCrunch.

Most spacecraft get their power from one of two sources: solar panels and Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators (RTG). Solar panels only work in areas that get sunlight—deep caves don’t always get sunlight. Solar panels also require surface area. Since rovers are the size of cars, like the ones on Mars, that’s not a problem. But the next generation of lunar rovers will be much smaller. NASA, for example, is developing Called Cooperative Autonomous Distributed Robotic Explorers that will fit into shoeboxes.

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RTG, on the other hand, does not rely on the sun, instead using the radioactive decay of plutonium-238 to create electricity. The technology is, perhaps surprisingly, very expensive, and may not be very affordable for smaller rovers.

Given the current push for lunar projects – Artemis 1, for example, launched with four CubeSats aimed at the moon (and six more going elsewhere) – MPR-1 has the potential to be quite useful.

An illustration of possible mining operations in a dark crater, with solar energy at the edges.

“The way we plan to deliver power is through a box we call a wireless charging box, or WCB,” said Kapralov. The WCB will be powered by solar panels—if it’s a lunar crater, it will place those on the edge of the crater, and run electrical cables down the bottom of the crater, where the WCB will be installed.

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The WCB will then store that energy in its batteries, and quickly distribute it to other rovers via wireless charging. Those rovers, which would require a WCB-compatible wireless charging port, would be able to navigate to the WCB using beacon or visual navigation. Since there is no space to dampen the wireless signal, this process will be more efficient than on Earth.

Kapralov also hopes the WCB will be able to travel to a powered lunar spacecraft to provide launch funds, although that is a challenge for future missions. The initial goal was simply to demonstrate WCB technology.

Until now, the Stells have been building prototypes and testing them on Earth—and they’ve been self-funded. “But we will probably start at the end of next year to try to get money for the development and launch of the aircraft,” said Kapralov.

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Over the past two decades, there has been a significant push for lunar exploration, and while progress has been rampant, the results have been limited. Google’s Lunar Xprize competition, for example, had companies building lunar rovers for a grand prize of $20 million. The competition started in 2007 and had a 2014 deadline to land on the moon; when it became clear that no one would be ready by 2014, that deadline was extended to 2018.

Although five teams ended up receiving startup contracts, Google ended the competition without a winner. Those teams’ Moon Express and Team Indus have had their contracts canceled, while Hakuto/ispace and Synergy Moon are still working on the launch. A fifth team, SpaceIL, launched on the moon in 2019, but its landing attempt failed.

Even so, the lunar industry continues to evolve, and more jobs are closer to reality than ever before. Nothing is guaranteed—there is fertile ground for well-intentioned failure. But the moon is the limit for many companies like Stells hoping to get there.

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