Tesla claims it can drive battery costs down even lower with new material science innovations

Amid a packed afternoon of announcements from Tesla around innovations the company is pursuing to slash the cost of electric vehicle production and energy storage through better battery design, the company said it’s made new advancements in material science for anodes and cathodes — key components of the lithium-ion batteries that are the heart of all of its products.

Tesla took an all-of-the-above approach to improving its battery from the manufacturing process that is still under development to the materials used in cathode and anode, the basic building blocks of any battery system.

The upshot: a reduction in cost of the cathode and anode materials, while boosting performance that on its own could extend the range of its batteries by 20%, Tesla said.

On the anode side, the company is looking at ways to integrate more silicon into its batteries by using metallurgical grade silicon. One of the most abundant materials on earth, most of the silicon used in microchips, batteries, and even solar panels has been highly processed using expensive treatments to make it work for different applications. With batteries, the issue is its propensity to degrade when it’s fully charged with lithium.

“With silicon, the cookie crumbles and gets gooey,” said Elon Musk during the company’s “battery day” presentation. That gooeyness means that the material loses its energy retention and storage capacity. Every time a battery charges, the degradation means shorter life cycles for the battery.

That’s why most companies use some sort of treatment on silicon to make the material hardier — or use as little silicon as possible in their batteries. “They enable some of the benefits of silicon, but they don’t enable all of it and they’re not scalable enough,” said Andrew Baglino, the company’s SVP of powertrain and energy engineering.

Instead of throwing the silicon out, Tesla said it is working with a new treatment method that can take cheap, metallurgical grade silicon and incorporate that into its new battery designs.

“What we’re proposing is a step-change in capability and a step-change in cost and to go to the raw metallurgical silicon itself,” said Baglino. “Design for it to expand [and] think of it in the electrode design … If you use simple silicon it is dramatically less than the silicon that is used in batteries today.

Baglino expects that by using new treatment methods, the company could drop the cost to $1.20 a kilowatt hour.

That involves starting with raw, metallurgical silicon that’s stabilized with a low-cost, elastic, ion-conducting polymer that’s integrated into the electrode with a highly elastic binder. 

That innovation alone could increase the range of Tesla vehicles by 20%. “When we take that anode cost production, we’re look at a 5% dollar-per-kilowatt reduction at the battery pack level,” Baglino said.

But the company doesn’t intend to stop at the anode. It’s also looking at using different material science innovations to increase the efficiency of the cathode too.

Both the anode and the cathode need to be able to maintain their structure while having charged particles bounce off of them. They’re basically storage containers for electricity even as that electricity is moving around — charging and discharging.

Baglino and Musk likened the materials to bookshelves, where the charged particles are the books and the shelves are the cathodes.

Batteries in this analogy are basically libraries, where the cathodes store the books and the anodes are the librarians moving the books (energy) out into the world where they can be read or used (I think I’ve taken that analogy about as far as it can go).

“You need a stable structure to contain the ions. You want a structure that hold its shape with ion. As you move the ion back and forth you lose cycle life and your battery capacity drops very quickly,” said Musk. 

Several different materials can be used as cathodes, but the cheapest, by far, is nickel. It also has the highest energy density. But most batteries use cobalt because it’s a more stable material.

Tesla said today that it is working on a way to stabilize nickel for use as a more robust storage material. That means the nickel can store the energy (books) without the risk of toppling or degrading.

“We can get a 15% reduction in cathode dollar per kilowatt hour,” said Baglino.

Musk said that Tesla wouldn’t be throwing out its existing chemistries, but that the addition of new nickel-based batteries would enable the company to pursue some of its other goals.

“We need to have a three-tiered approach to batteries,” Musk said. “Iron — medium range, nickel manganese as medium-plus, and high nickel for the Cybertruck and the Semi.”

Tesla says its battery innovations will deliver its goal of a $25,000 mass market electric car

Tesla held its Battery Day event on Tuesday to discuss a variety of innovations it has developed and is pursuing in battery technology for its vehicles. At the event, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and SVP of Powertrain and Energy Engineering Drew Baglino detailed new anode and cathode technology it’s working on, as well as materials science, in-house mining operations and manufacturing improvements it’s developing to make more more affordable, sustainable batteries — and they said that taken together, these should allow them to make an electric vehicle available to consumers at the $25,000 price point.

“We’re confident we can make a very, very compelling $25,000 electric vehicle, that’s also fully autonomous,” Musk said. “And when you think about the $25,000 price point you have to consider how much less expensive it is to own an electric vehicle. So actually, it becomes even more affordable at that $25,000 price point.”

This isn’t the first time that Musk has talked about the $25,000 price point for a Tesla car: Two years ago, in August 2018, he said that he believed the company would be able to reach that target price point in roughly three years. Two years on, it seems like the goal posts have been pushed out again — fairly standard for an Elon-generated timeline — since Musk and Baglino acknowledged that it would be another two or three years before the company could realize the technologies it presented in sufficient quantities to be produced effectively at scale.

Tesla detailed a new, tabless battery cell design that would help it achieve its goal of reaching 10 to 20 terawatts of global battery production capacity per year. The design offers five times the energy density of the existing cells it uses, as well as six times the power and an overall 16% improvement in range for vehicles in which it’s used.

TransferWise reports accelerating revenue growth to 70% in its March, 2020 fiscal year

TransferWise, a European fintech unicorn, announced the financial results of its fiscal year ending March, 2020.

The company posted strong growth, continued profit and new customer records. TransferWise was most recently valued at $5 billion during a secondary sale worth $319 million in July of this year.

On the results front, we can compare the company’s March 2020 year to its March 2019 year, the results of which we also have available. Here are the nuts and bolts, picking from the provided metrics to share the most material:

  • TransferWise fiscal 2020 revenue: £302.6 million, up 70% from its fiscal 2019 result of £179 million. That’s a venture-level revenue result from a mature company that is self-powering.
  • TransferWise grew more quickly in its March 2020 year than in its March 2019 year, when it managed a slower 53% growth rate per the company. Accelerating revenue growth at this scale is very valuable.
  • TransferWise managed a fourth year of consecutive profitability, generating £21.3 million in “net profit after tax” for the March 2020 fiscal year. The company first started generating profit “since 2017” per its own release, which we presume means the year ending March 2017.
  • The company reported that it now has 8 million worldwide customers, up from 6 million in the preceding fiscal year. That’s 33% growth.
  • The pace at which business customers sign up for TransferWise appeared to include slower growth, moving from 10,000 per month in the March 2019 year to “over 10,000” in its most recent release.
  • TransferWise processed £42 billion in “cross currency transfers,” or around 63% of its total processing volume of £67 billion.

Instead of merely shouting at this point that TransferWise should go public, as it is providing granular data on its performance we’re already somewhat sated. More notes on gross margins would be good, for example, but this level of transparency is still welcome.

Turning to future growth, TransferWise stated in a release that APAC is the company’s “fastest growing region.” Its U.S. business was worth around a fourth of its March 2020 year’s revenue. Europe was just over half for the same period.

The company’s ability to pay for its own growth means that it has not raised money for some time. Indeed, the last equity round that we have on the company is its November, 2017 investment. That capital was $280 million raised at a $1.3 billion pre-money valuation in a deal led by Merian Global Investors and IVP. Since then the company has sold secondary shares from time to time.

That should lessen internal demands for a traditional liquidity event, but not quash them altogether. The unavoidable question is why not go public when the firm already reports so much public performance data. On the other hand, when a company needs no capital, it need not accept advice, either.

Regardless, TransferWise shows that fintech can make money after all.

Caura, an app to take the hassle out of car ownership, launches from Echo co-founder Sai Lakshmi

Caura, a new U.K. startup that aims to take the hassle out of car ownership, is breaking cover today. Founded by Sai Lakshmi, who previously co-founded Echo, the medication management service acquired by LloydsPharmacy owner McKesson, Caura is an iOS app designed to manage all of the vehicle-related admin that car owners endure.

Drivers are on-boarded to Caura by entering their vehicle registration number. They’ll then be able to manage parking, tolls, MOT, road tax, car insurance and congestion charges — a “one-stop shop” app in a similar vain to Echo, perhaps. The idea is that Caura minimises car ownership admin and helps to mitigate associated penalty fines.

“After my girlfriend racked up hundreds of pounds of parking fines, I started doing market research,” explains Lakshmi. “It was clear there was an opportunity to build something in the space that made life easier for drivers — after all, I’d just spent the past seven years thinking about how to make the NHS run smoothly — this should be easy in comparison! I toyed with several different models, including hardware, and after a few pretty direct conversations with some Apple engineering folks, decided to focus on the software platform: it would be more accessible to more people and easier to integrate with private and public services we’d need to interface with if we wanted to be a one-stop shop for your car.”

Lakshmi says that after purchasing his first car that shipped with Apple CarPlay, he was “blown away” by how slick the interface is for entertainment, communication and maps, but also became convinced there was more to be done in this space. “I then thought it would be brilliant to have one single app to add all your vehicle-related payments to streamline the experience, improve vehicle compliance and make paying for parking and the ever-changing digital road landscape simple,” he says.

Image Credits: Caura

Once you’ve downloaded the app and entered your vehicle registration number, you can view the status of your car’s tax, MOT and insurance renewal dates. From the home screen, you can also pay for selected parking, toll roads and congestion charges.

The FCA-approved app integrates with Apple Pay or will safely store payment details, which can be used to pay car charges “in just two clicks.” In-app notifications also remind you when it’s time to pay, with Caura promising to reduce the millions of automated fines or penalty charge notices that are issued to Brits each year.

“There are dozens of platforms that drivers need to manage just one car,” notes Lakshmi. “On a more regular basis, you need a dozen parking apps and other websites to manage your drive. These all have their own log-ins, forms and payment details and the whole experience is a dog’s dinner. There are apps that insist on CVC codes being entered every time you use them and others that insist on SMS messages for reminders, which is so 2000, not 2020. Also, if you get any of this wrong, you get lumped with automated fines.”

Caura can be used for a single vehicle, but can also support multiple registered vehicles, meaning it can potentially scale for fleet managers. An Android version is also promised by the end of the year.

Lakshmi says he and his co-founders — Shaun Foce (director of engineering) and Bhavin Kotecha (chief of staff and finance director) — have already raised £1.4 million for Caura. Backing comes from various unnamed angels, although he says 50% of Caura’s investors have connections to his previous company.

Asked how the startup generates revenue, “Right now, we don’t,” replies the Caura founder. “We’re just passing through these payments to the final provider like congestion charge and parking. Given the seismic shift in investor mindset from crazy growth to building profitable businesses, our long-term business model is most certainly something with sustainable unit economics. It’s currently in the oven and we’re really excited to share more in Q4 2020 later this year.”

Tesla introduces its tabless battery design on the road to 10 terawatt hours of production

For Tesla to reach the ambitious goal of 10 to 20 terawatt hours of battery production per year that the company has set, it will need to advance the battery and its production.

Today, during Tesla’s self-described Battery Day event, the company laid out a series of innovations that its CEO Elon Musk said will get it there. And it all starts with a new construction of the battery itself.

As part of its announcements, the company has announced the creation of a new cell design, that the company said has a new 80 millimeter length that will give the cells five times the energy density, six times the power, and enable a 16% increase in range.

“We’re starting to ramp up manufacturing of these cells at our pilot 10 gigawatt manufacturing facility just around the corner,” said Drew Baglino, the SVP of powertrain and energy engineering at Tesla.

However, it should be noted that this new cell manufacturing system isn’t actually working yet. It’s “close to working” at the pilot plant level, Musk added.

Traditional batteries are made of three components, the anode, the cathode and the separator. In addition to that basic battery structure, there are tabs that allow a cell’s energy to be transferred to an external source. Large format lithium-ion cells have a ‘foil-to-tab’ weld to collect the he foils inside a cell and join them to a tab.

Lithium ions flow from the anode to the cathode through the separator to discharge and charge the battery. The process has been the same for batteries for decades and the changes have been mostly in the material science, and changes to the size of the battery.

Image of a traditional lithium ion battery and its components: the anode, cathode, and separator. Image Credit: Tesla 

Those changes in size to increase power and density come with thermal issues, Baglino said.

“This was the challenge that our team set its sights on to overcome,” Baglino said. “We came up with this tabless architecture that removes the thermal problem from the equation that allows us to go to the absolute lowest cost form factor and the simplest manufacturing process.”

Tesla took the existing foils and laser patterned them and enabled dozens of connections into the active material through a shingled spiral. That new design means simpler manufacturing, fewer parts, and a shorter electrical path length, which is how Tesla gets the thermal benefits it claims, according to Baglino.

“For cylindricals to be able to get rid of the tabs dramatically simplifies winding and coating and has an awesome thermal and performance benefit,” said Baglino.

Musk agrees. “It’s really a huge pain in the ass to have tabs,” Musk said during the event.

By reducing the distance the electron has to travel, the cell has less thermal issues and a shorter path length in a larger tabless cell, according to Musk, who explained that though the cell is bigger, the power to weight ratio is better than a smaller cell with tabs.

“This is quite hard to do,” said Musk. “Nobody’s done it before. So.. It really took a tremendous amount of effort within Tesla engineering to figure out how do we make a fricking tabless cell and make it actually work and connect it to the top cap.”

It’s the first of several steps that the company is taking to ramp up energy storage on its quest to move the world that much closer to renewable energy.

“It took us a lot of trials but we’re very happy where we ended up,” said Baglino.

 

Future Teslas will have batteries that double as structure, making them extra stiff while improving efficiency, safety and cost

Tesla has fundamentally redesigned the way that its battery packs integrate into their vehicles, turning them into structural elements of the car, rather than just fuel sources on their own. At Tesla’s Battery Day event on Tuesday, Elon Musk compared this to how commercial aircraft used to load fuel into tanks that were contained within the wings, but that were essentially bolted onto internal structure — later on, they realized much greater efficiencies in how much fuel could be carried, as well as weight and parts usage, by making the wing bodies actual fuel tanks themselves.

“All modern airplanes, the fuel tank, your wing is just a fuel tank and wing shaped,” he said. “This is absolutely the way to do it. And then the fuel tank serves as dual structure, and it’s no longer cargo. It’s fundamental to the structure of the aircraft — this was a major breakthrough. We’re doing the same for cars.”

By turning the battery cell into a structural component of the vehicle, Musk pointed out that they can actually save more mass overall in the car than you would assume on paper if you just took out the structural supports in the battery cells as they currently exist. That’s because the battery itself is doing a lot of that support work — which, he points out, actually makes the overall vehicle safer, which might seem counterintuitive.

Tesla will achieve this by creating a filler that is also a structural adhesive, and that also acts as a flame retardant. It “effectively glues the cells to the top and bottom sheet, and this allows you to do shear transfer between upper and lower sheets,” Musk said.

“This gives you incredible stiffness, and it’s really the way that any super-fast thing works is you create basically a honeycomb sandwich with two phase sheets,” he said. “This is actually even better than what aircraft do because they can’t do this because fuel is liquid.”

The end result of this will be that a structure that enables Tesla’s cars to be much stiffer than any regular cars. That stiffer design is better for safety overall, and also means that the batteries will be more efficient, while also avoiding any “arbitrary point loads” of strain or stress on the battery cell itself.

It also allows us to use to move the cells closer to the center of the car, because we don’t have […] sort of all the supports and stuff,” he said. “So, the volumetric efficiency of the structural pack is much better than a non-structural pack. And we actually bring cells closer to the center.”

This reduces the potential of side impacts from collisions actually reaching the cells, which means they should be less susceptible to sustaining the kind of damage that can result in battery-related fires. It will also “improve the polar moment of inertia,” Musk said, which basically translates to better overall maneuvering of the vehicle and driving and handling feel.

Finally, there are 370 fewer parts in the structural battery design versus the current Tesla battery cell design, which greatly reduces cost as well as potential failure points. That’s going to add up to a lot of manufacturing savings, per Musk, and will stack with the other battery innovations he unveiled.

Social networks are doing a voter registration blitz this week

With the most uncertain election in modern American history fast approaching, social networks are doing a final big push to get their users registered to vote.

The efforts align with National Voter Registration Day, which punctuates ongoing efforts from companies like Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat to get people to the polls, whether IRL or through mail-in voting.

Snapchat, which says it has helped 750,000 U.S. users get registered to vote, announced new voter-focused programming with an eclectic slate of celebrities that included Snoop Dogg, former President Obama and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The social network is also launching some new Snap Originals (the company’s short form pieces of content) themed around the U.S. election. Those include a “Good Luck Voter!” miniseries by Peter Hamby a special election-focused episode of “While Black with MK Asante.”

Star power aside, a Snapchat tool prompts users make a plan to vote with friends and also allows them to request a mail-in ballot through the app itself. Any account featured on Snapchat’s Discover page can also embed the platform’s voter registration tool directly into their content.

Image Credits: Twitter

Twitter’s own efforts also put voter registration front and center. On September 22, all U.S. Twitter users were sent a prompt asking them to register or confirm their voter registration through TurboVote. The prompt and an accompanying push alert were sent in 40 languages. The new reminders join the company’s existing voting info hub and its #YourVoiceYourVote campaign, which recruited popular accounts like Marshmello and Chrissy Teigen to promote a link to Vote.org’s registration check page along with original voice notes. Twitter also added new hashtag emoji linked to #NationalVoterRegistrationDay and #VoteReady.

 

Adding to its existing efforts, like the launch of its own election info hub, top-of-newsfeed prompts and Instagram reminders, Facebook roped in celebrities Alicia Keys, Gabrielle Union, Jada Pinkett Smith and others for a special “Vote-A-Thon 2020” series of livestreaming educational PSAs around voter registration. Facebook says it’s helped 2.5 million people get registered to vote across Facebook, Instagram and Messenger

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook’s top-of-feed notifications reminding users to register will run on the Facebook app, Instagram and Messenger through Friday September 25. Users who use a new set of Instagram stickers for National Voter Registration Day will have their story featured in a special voter registration-themed story on the social network.

YouTube and the apparently still-in-limbo TikTok didn’t appear to be holding their own voter registration drives Tuesday, but Google, Reddit and Discord all featured prominent homepage banners reminding users to register to vote.

Papa raises $18 million to expand its business connecting older adults with virtual and in-person companions

The Miami-based startup Papa has raised an additional $18 million as it looks to expand its business connecting elderly Americans and families with physical and virtual companions, which the company calls “pals.”

The company’s services are already available in 17 states and Papa is going to expand to another four states in the next few months, according to chief executive Andrew Parker.

Parker launched the business after reaching out on Facebook to find someone who could serve as a pal for his own grandfather in Florida.

After realizing that there was a need among elderly residents across the state for companionship and assistance that differed from the kind of in-person care that would typically be provided by a caregiver, Parker launched the service. The kinds of companionship Papa’s employees offer range from helping with everyday tasks — including transportation, light household chores, advising with health benefits and doctor’s appointments, and grocery delivery — to just conversation.

With the social isolation brought on by responses to the COVID-19 pandemic there are even more reasons for the company’s service, Parker said. Roughly half of adults consider themselves lonely, and social isolation increases the risk of death by 29%, according to statistics provided by the company.

“We created Papa with the singular goal of supporting older adults and their families throughout the aging journey,” said Parker, in a statement. “The COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately only intensified circumstances leading to loneliness and isolation, and we’re honored to be able to offer solutions to help families during this difficult time.” 

Papa’s pals go through a stringent vetting process, according to Parker, and only about 8% of all applicants become pals.

These pals get paid an hourly rate of around $15 per hour and have the opportunity to receive bonuses and other incentives, and are now available for virtual and in-person sessions with the older adults they’re matched with.

“We have about 20,000 potential Papa pals apply a month,” said Parker. In the company’s early days it only accepted college students to work as pals, but now the company is accepting a broader range of potential employees, with assistants ranging from 18 to 45 years old. The average age, Parker said, is 29.

Papa monitors and manages all virtual interactions between the company’s employees and their charges, flagging issues that may be raised in discussions, like depression and potential problems getting access to food or medications. The monitoring is designed to ensure that meal plans, therapists or medication can be made available to the company’s charges, said Parker.

Now that there’s $18 million more in financing for the company to work with, thanks to new lead investor Comcast Ventures and other backers — including Canaan, Initialized Capital, Sound Ventures, Pivotal Ventures, the founders of Flatiron Health and their investment group Operator Partners, along with Behance founder, Scott Belsky — Papa is focused on developing new products and expanding the scope of its services.

The company has raised $31 million to date and expects to be operating in all 50 states by January 2021. The company’s companion services are available to members through health plans and as an employer benefit.

“Papa is enabling a growing number of older Americans to age at home, while reducing the cost of care for health plans and creating meaningful jobs for companion care professionals,” said Fatima Husain, principal at Comcast Ventures, in a statement. “

Gillmor Gang: Watch Party

This Gillmor Gang episode is as much about what we didn’t talk about as what we did. In the run up to the recording session, we somehow suspected we’d talk about Apple’s virtual event on Tuesday. Then, 15 minutes after we finished, RBG lost her battle to keep the Supreme Court from tipping even further to the right. With barely 7 weeks to the election, things changed.

Apple’s event focused on two product announcements — a next gen Apple Watch and an iPad Air refresh. Also bill boarded was the software side of Apple’s bundling of their services into a super package missing the next iPhone as the flagship hardware that sits on top. In fact, it also has the effect of bundling the Watch, the phone, the tablet, the AirPods, and even the AppleTV as a suite of services connected via wrist, ears, and eyes. Come to think of it, that really was something to talk about. But instead, two weeks before the climactic debates, our thoughts turned to handicapping where we’ll be by the time Apple actually ships the next wave of iPhones for the holidays.

The pandemic has altered our perspective in so many ways, but one key shift is the slow yet steady realization that waiting for the new normal is missing what is already staring us in the face. Yes, we’re champing at the bit to enjoy the weekend as though it was a separate thing. We celebrate our religious holidays as though they are a Zoom version of snow days. Next year in Jerusalem becomes how about a movie night out.

In that context a new iPhone delayed by two months is just about right. Besides, how much does 5G really matter when we’re stuck at home? The Hollywood production lockdown has caught up with the binge jockeys we’ve become. Old style broadcast TV is already caught in a vise between those of us who are sick of waiting through a summer of Big Brother to solve cliffhangers we could honestly care less about. We already have too many cliffhangers in real life — the election, the post-election, the vaccines, whether anybody will take them, oh yeah, the economy, not who’s in the SuperBowl but whether there’s a SuperBowl.

So Apple should have been something to talk about. Instead, it’s Tik Tok, which is OK because at least it’s about the kids and what they are up to. Our children have way more reality on their shoulders then they or we expected. The good news may be that they’re handling brutal college transitions and the testing of friendships pretty well. Harder is the family of vulnerable intermingling with the watch party crowd, parents struggling to protect their brood without benefit of even a sympathetic hug or twenty. Instead, it’s the kids trying to reassure us that it will be OK.

And now there’s RBG for the ages, and AOC to warn us not to stay home in November. Who knows whether it will work or not, but Ruth Bader Ginsberg and the Representative from Brooklyn are bookends on the corner turn we sit at in American history. The Tik Tok struggle may be seen in terms of the current administration, or a marker laid down in what social media 2.0 wil look like. Reality TV may be being obsoleted by a generation that spans boomers and snapchatters, where watch parties spring up to meet the demands of realtime.

Watch parties seem stuck in an older age of drive-ins and soda jerks. But look closer and signals emerge. Last week Facebook added a picture in picture feature to watch parties (not to be confused with Facebook Watch, or Apple Watch for that matter.) PiP puts you into a just in time mode where comments and tweets can blend a back channel to the show participants with group dynamics of the audience. It also combines the feel of podcasting with the fundamentals of the newsletter architecture. Watching how the candidates are battling the virus with undecided voters is now being virtualized. The important news is that we will see a decision shortly.

JFK showed the world how TV worked, not just in the debates with Nixon, but in his press conferences, a mashup of humor, political savvy, and an exciting confidence the Beatles picked up and ran with. “But even the President of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked,” Bob Dylan intoned. Now we’ll find out.

__________________

The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor . Recorded live Friday, September 18, 2020.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

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CMU’s MoonRanger robot rover will be the first to search for water ice on the Moon in 2022

Carnegie Mellon University and spinoff space startup Astrobotic are developing a robotic rover to look for water on the Moon, and the little bot just passed the crucial preliminary design review phase, putting it one step closer to its inaugural mission planned for 2022. MoonRanger is aiming to be the first robotic detective to investigate whether buried ice is present in sufficient quantities to be useful to future lunar explorers.

MoonRanger could well be the first, provided it sticks to its schedule, but it’ll have competition from NASA’s own water ice-hunting rover – a golf-cart-sized robotic explorer called VIPER which is aiming to touchdown on the Moon in December, 2022. The goal of VIPER is to help look for the presence of water ice near the Moon’s surface in order to help prepare the way for the planned human landing in 2024, which kicks off efforts on the part of NASA and its partners in the international space community to establish a permanent human science and research presence on our large natural satellite.

Like VIPER, MoonRanger is destined for the South Pole of the Moon, and will be a kind of advance scout for NASA’s mission. Ideally, MoonRanger, delivered by Masten Space Systems’ XL-1 lunar lander under the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, will confirm the presence of water ice in decent amounts, and then VIPER will arrive a bit later with the ability to drill deeper, and to perform more rigorous on-site analysis.

MoonRanger will be much smaller than VIPER, at roughly the size of a suitcase, but it will have the ability to travel at speeds previously unheard-of for extraterrestrial exploratory robots. The CMU bot will be able to cover up to 1,000 meters (almost two-thirds of a mile) over the course of a single day. That small size means it’ll rely on a relay to send any communications back to Earth – a process which will involve transmitting to the Masten lander, which will relay that back to scientists here at home using its much higher-powered communications array.