If people are going to stay on the Moon for long periods, they'll need to consider resources below the surface — and a rather unusual robot might just help. The European Space Agency is backing work on DAEDALUS (Descent And Exploration in Deep Autonomy of Lunar Underground Structures), a "hamster ball" robot from Julius-Maximilians-University built to study lunar caves.
The 18.1-inch ball is meant to be lowered from a tether and use a combination of stereoscopic cameras and LiDAR to map underground spaces as it rolls around on its own. A radiation dosimeter and temperature sensors, meanwhile, gauge how hostile these caves are to human life. Extending arms both test lunar rocks and help clear obstacles.
The tether would be useful as a WiFi receiver while the robot works on its own.
DAEDALUS is one cave exploration concept under consideration at the ESA, and there are no guarantees it'll reach the lunar surface. It could be a vital tool if it does become reality, though. Researchers could find relatively untouched material, including possible water ice. The right caves might even be suitable for Moon settlements, as they could shield against micrometeorites, radiation and extreme temperatures. Explorers might not need to build habitats as elaborate as would be necessary to live above ground.