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Robotics Moon NASA Science

Moon-Excavation Robots Face Off 61

Posted by Soulskill
from the can-you-dig-it dept.
avishere writes "Student teams designed and built robotic power-lifters to excavate simulated lunar soil (a.k.a. 'regolith') earlier this month, with $750,000 in prizes up for grabs. Excavating regolith, according to NASA, will be an important part of any construction projects or processing of natural resources on the Moon. Interestingly, regolith is especially difficult to dig because its dust particles want to stick together. The whole robotic system has to be sturdy enough to scoop moon dirt and powerful enough to move through the dust while still meeting the weight requirements. The winning excavator, from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, lifted 1,103 pounds within the allotted time, and got its creators a sweet $500,000 for their troubles."
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Moon-Excavation Robots Face Off

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  • I hear... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 31, 2009 @10:41AM (#29934903)

    Caterpillar aka. CAT machinery is pretty efficient at that.

  • by kurt555gs (309278) <kurt555gs@o v i .com> on Saturday October 31, 2009 @10:41AM (#29934909) Homepage

    I am wondering if the money being spent on a manned space program is just wasted. With the davances in robotics, we could be scooping up Martian soil, Europan ice, and goo from Saturn's moons and bringing it home for a fraction of putting a man on Mars.

    Unless we get volunteers for a one way manned Martian mission, I think the money should be put into advanced robot probes.

     

  • by khallow (566160) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @10:51AM (#29934959)
    Manned space effort is based on the premise that there will be a sizable number of people living or visiting in space in the not so distant future (within say 50 years). If true, useful manned space efforts now would position the US for a competitive advantage.
  • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @10:55AM (#29934993) Homepage

    I am wondering if the money being spent on a manned space program is just wasted. With the davances in robotics, we could be scooping up Martian soil, Europan ice, and goo from Saturn's moons and bringing it home for a fraction of putting a man on Mars.

    These are not, or shouldn't be, mutually exclusive. Clearly picking up a sample of Martian soil and bringing it back to Earth is going to prove out some technologies that are useful for human missions.

    Robots and humans can, and should, work together. But, ultimately, it's not about the robots-- it's about us. The goal should be extending our civilization out beyond the Earth.

    (...and, in a final comment, let me note that you may be vastly optimistic about how hard it is to return samples from the Jupiter and Saturn systems. These are some very very difficult missions.)

  • by Bat Country (829565) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @10:59AM (#29935021) Homepage

    Unless we get volunteers for a one way manned Martian mission, I think the money should be put into advanced robot probes.

    We won't get any unless we start asking for some and putting up the money to make it a reality.

    What good would volunteering now do, when they'll tell you you ought to be ready to roll in 2020? If you're, say, 40 now, in pretty good health, feel like you've accomplished a lot on earth and are ready to cast yourself away to the depths of space never again to see mother earth except via video camera so you decide to volunteer for a one-way mission to build the first Martian colony, then you're told, "OK great, sign here, see you in 10-15 years," that's not exactly productive. In 15 years you'll be 55, might have developed all sorts of health problems which didn't bother you when you were younger and what had seemed like a good amount of time in good health to produce a colony (say, 25 years of good health and another 15-20 of passable health barring cancer or heart problems due to damage) has shrunk to a lot less time.

    We'll get volunteers - there's absolutely no doubt of that. We just need to build the mission. If you could launch next month, you could find at least 30 academics, scientists and good old fashioned laborers who would sign up just for the shot at making human history who would have their bags packed in half a day and be asking for their airline ticket to Cape Canaveral.

  • something missing (Score:5, Insightful)

    by arielCo (995647) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @11:12AM (#29935091)

    There's no mention of the additional challenge presented by the mechanical properties of lunar regolith [wikipedia.org]. Since there's no wind or liquid water, the grains of "sand" have been formed only by breaking up larger pebbles [wikipedia.org] and have not been eroded since, so they're rather jagged and very abrasive.

    In other words, imagine your garden-variety backhoe or skid loader digging through finely ground glass - you'll pray to @DEITIES for its gaskets and bearings.

  • by khallow (566160) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @12:02PM (#29935403)
    I think this is overrated. As the other replier noted, you can protect the delicate parts of your machine. You can also maintain it (eg, clean and oil on a frequent basis the relevant parts). It's merely another engineering problem and I see no reason that the issue has to be addressed in this stage of technology development.
  • by John Hasler (414242) on Saturday October 31, 2009 @12:53PM (#29935715) Homepage

    > Yup - gaskets, flexible boots and such. But they have limited effectiveness > since there's some sliding action exposed to the nasty elements.

    There doesn't have to be except at the wheels.

    Gas jets could be used to blow seals clear. Shouldn't take much gas. Or maybe positive pressure on the inside of each seal and a very slightly leaky seal so that there is a constant outward flow of gas or lubricant when the bearing is in motion to carry contaminants away.

    A search for "self cleaning seals" gets lots of hits.

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