It is important to note that NASA’s new budget does not end our ambitions to explore the moon. In order to explore new frontiers, NASA is launching a vigorous new technology development and test program that will pursue game-changing technology development that can take us further and faster and more affordably to the moon and beyond.
Robotic precursor missions to the Moon will scout targets for future human activities, and identify the hazards and resources that will determine the future course of the expansion of human civilization into space. When NASA goes back to the moon we are going to stay, we are not going for a few days or a week, and that will require a brand new approach. This precursor work will prepare us for a sustained human presence on the lunar surface by researching and testing technologies and operational concepts and by making observations that will benefit future human activities in space.
Future missions will likely include landing on the Moon with a robot that can be tele-operated from Earth and can transmit near-live video.
NASA’s Human Robotic Systems Project, part of the agency’s Exploration Technology Development Program, has focused on human and robotic mobility systems for the moon, but also is looking at communication and command and control systems that will connect the lunar explorers with Earth and each other as a ground control team located thousands of miles away will operate the robots.
NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., has tested two K10 rovers that surveyed simulated lunar landing sites and built topographic and panoramic 3-D terrain models. One rover used a ground-penetrating radar to assess subsurface structures. The other used a 3-D scanning laser system known as LIDAR to create topographic maps. The scout robots are designed to perform highly repetitive and long-duration tasks, such as site mapping and science reconnaissance.
JPL has tested two ATHLETE cargo-moving rovers. Each rover has six legs capable of rolling or walking over extremely rough or steep terrain. This will allow robotic or human missions on the surface of the moon to load, manipulate, deposit and transport payloads to desired sites. An autonomous drilling rover that could be used to search for valuable resources under the lunar surface in the moon’s polar regions has also been tested.
According to the new Budget details, future missions may use such technology to demonstrate a lunar factory that can process lunar or asteroid materials for various purposes.
Posted by: Soderman/NLSI Staff