We all have our own imaginary world in our heads. In the world we’ve created, we can either be super rich, or a hero with superpowers to save the earth. And there is always one essential element here ‒ the universe. Space themes always appear in science day posters and science fiction movies. We have long dreamed of a space world. Our imagination, longing for the universe, and challenger spirit have become the driving force to turn the imagination into reality. And finally, we have succeeded in getting one step closer to the world in our heads: the great achievements of mankind, such as the moon landing.
Our desire to get closer to the moon was manifested in October 1957. At that time, the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik One ‒ meaning companion, the world’s first artificial satellite that worked as the cue of the beginning of the space age. The US was shocked by the success of the Sputnik launch, because the science, technology, and military power were thought to be inferior to that of the US. This incident sparked the space race.
The United States established NASA, the National Aeronautics & Space Administration, to lead the Soviet Union in the space race, and made a huge investment. At an astronomical cost, NASA led the Apollo Program, the manned lunar mission from 1961 to 1972. When John F. Kennedy took office as the 35th President of the United States, he planned the Apollo program to send humans to the moon, and he succeeded six times. That was the moment when the United States, which had been behind the Soviet Union in the space race, first achieved superiority.
Half a century after the success of the Apollo program, the United States began a new challenge toward space: the Artemis program. As the name suggests, it is named after Apollo’s twin sister and moon goddess in Greek mythology, indicating that this is a follow‒up project to the Apollo program. The Artemis initiative began in 2017 when US President Donald Trump signed Space Policy Directive‒1, and it is still being systematically progressed after the Biden administration took office. NASA’s Artemis program will make visits to the moon sustainable, and will land multiracial male / female astronauts on the moon to carry out exploration missions. The ultimate goal is to use the moon as a springboard for manned exploration of Mars and other exoplanets. This is because the moon is close to Earth, and its environment is perfect for testing space exploration technologies.
What makes the Artemis Accords different from the Apollo program is that multiple countries held their hands together; The United States cooperated with eight countries, including Japan, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg, and the United Arab Emirates, in 2020 to promote the Artemis Accords; and South Korea officially joined the Artemis Accords by signing it. A total of 21 countries contributed to the success of the Artemis Accords, and the agreement created a new space alliance.
It is necessary to look into the reasons why humans are so focused on the moon. In the past, our main purpose was to explore the moon, which was simply an unknown world, but now we are focusing on the new value of the moon; The moon has many resources that we can utilize. NASA’s LRO ‒ the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter ‒ has discovered a thin layer of ice weighing about 600 million tons south of the moon. Water is significant not only because it shows the potential for human habitation, but also because it is essential for the operation of spacecraft.
Important is Helium‒3. It is estimated that the moon contains more than 1.1 million tons of helium‒3, which can be used by 7 billion humans for about 10,000 years. Helium‒3 is expected to become an eco‒friendly energy resource in the future as it is five times more efficient than nuclear power based on uranium or thorium when used in fusion power generation, and does not generate harmful radioactive waste. Also, experts believe that 40 tons of coal could be replaced by just 3 grams of helium‒3. And speaking of its value, helium‒3 costs about 4 trillion KRW per ton.
Since South Korea joined the Artemis project, Hyundai Motor Group has also jumped into lunar mobility development; The scope of mobility presented through robotics and Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) has now expanded to space. Hyundai Motor Company and Kia Motors signed a joint research agreement with six domestic government‒funded research institutes with aerospace and space capabilities to develop mobility for lunar surface exploration, and formed a consultative body. This agreement has great significance in that government‒funded research institutes and companies mobilized their capabilities and gathered related technologies for the development of space technology; Also, in order to develop lunar surface exploration mobility, they also need technologies in various fields such as scientific exploration, software for operation, and space communication equipment that must be housed in the mobility.
Hyundai Motor Company and Kia will develop technologies necessary for lunar surface mobility together with the council, as well as review strategies and measures for mobility operation on the moon. They also support the council by bringing together future technological capabilities. To accomplish this, they established organizations that include essential personnel needed ‒ such as the Robotics Lab for robot development, or software/hardware design, space environment response, and special equipment for exploration missions.
The Artemis program will utilize robotics technology for successful lunar surface exploration ‒ such as developing robots not only as exploration mobility but as assistants to replace human labor. Robots may be responsible for the construction, maintenance, and assembly of mobile bases. From the point of view of feasibility, skills possessed, and connectivity, both robots for simple tasks and robots with the ability to perform specific goals may be developed. And for work fields that require human power, multi‒purpose robots that can support humans may be needed. Hyundai Motor Group is responding quickly to this trend.
In order to develop exploration mobility, its environment must be taken into account. Unlike Earth, the moon’s surface has millions of craters formed by collisions with meteorites, comets, and asteroids. In addition, since there is no atmosphere, it is exposed to cosmic radiation, and extreme weather and dust, which exceed 130 degrees below zero and 170 degrees below zero, are also obstacles. The goal of the Hyundai Motor Group and the council is to develop mobility that can be operated in such extreme environments through technological innovation.
“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” said Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969; And since that day, mankind has faced many leaps in history. Hyundai Motor Group’s challenge to the moon will be the same. Of course, it will also be a cornerstone for the birth of mobility that has never existed before. This is why we should pay attention to the new challenges of Hyundai Motor Group.
by In‒hak Heo