German motorcycle company, Hookie, has developed the first two-wheeled lunar vehicle concept, doing away with Moon buggies and conceptualizing a more Star Wars-esque method of skirting across the arid landscape. Called the "Tardigrade", their lunar bike is a fictional concept inspired by NASA’s lunar rovers, and would blast across the Moon at a top speed of 15 kilometers per hour (9 miles per hour), which is slightly faster than current lunar vehicles but significantly more maneuverable.
Why is it called the Tardigrade, you may ask? According to Hookie, it is inspired by the resilience and impressive survivability of the microscopic water bears – although the bike would hopefully move slightly faster.
While it may look like a simple (albeit futuristic) electric bike, creating a lunar racer is no easy feat. Vehicles need to be incredibly light but strong enough to withstand hostile environments and reliable enough to require only light maintenance whilst exploring the surface of another world. It may have been 50 years since humans first drove on the Moon but we're not quite at the calling out a lunar mechanic stage just yet.
To build such a bike, the designers decided on an ultra-thin, 10-millimeter aluminum frame, which would then be wrapped in a sturdier tubing exoskeleton. The important drive in the middle of the bike would then be wrapped in Kevlar and aluminum, a concept widely used in lunar vehicles to protect against radiation, cold and minor impacts. The design would weigh around 140 kilograms (300 pounds), bringing it in at two-thirds of the weight of the current lunar buggy and taking up just a fraction of the space – something vital when considering payloads for space missions.
"A moon buggy requires almost the same space as 3-4 Tardigrades," Nico Müller, Hookie co-founder, told Interesting Engineering. "The weight is much less than that of a complete buggy made out of steel."
Set upon custom-designed wheels to carry the weight of the bike with ease, the design was finished by a snazzy new space motorcycle suit.
But the Moon’s surface poses more challenges than just the motorbike itself – even the lubricant needs to be specifically designed for electric motorbikes and be suitable for extra-terrestrial pursuits. As a result, Hookie partnered with PURAGLOBE, which create a lubricant ideal for the job.
“That was an incredible amount of work, and even for us, this was quite special,” said Hookie co-founder Sylvia Müller, in a statement sent to IFLScience. According to the designers, the concept left even NASA "speechless".
The Tardigrade remains a concept, but it is quickly becoming reality. Hookie is now well-underway in the building of the bike, and will reportedly be presenting the bike this month at the ADV: Overland exhibition in the Petersen Museum (California). As NASA pushes for a human presence on the Moon once more with the Artemis missions, who knows – maybe the astronauts will be racing buggies and bikes alike.