Tiny robot to simulate lunar mission in Hawaii
Washington, Oct 15 (IANS) A robot designed for lunar prospecting will be tested on the cool, rocky slopes of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano that is also Hawaii's highest mountain.
During the field experiment, scheduled in the first half of November, the four wheeled robot called Scarab will simulate a lunar mission to extract water, hydrogen, oxygen and other compounds that could potentially be mined for use by future lunar explorers.
The robot will trek to different sites, using a Canadian-built drill to obtain a one-metre geologic core at each site. Each core will be chemically analysed by on-board instruments developed by NASA.
'People will not return to the moon for prolonged stays unless we can find resources there to help sustain them,' said Carnegie Mellon University professor William 'Red' Whittaker, director of the Robotics Institute's Field Robotics Centre.
'The technology being developed for Scarab will help locate whatever water or resources might exist on the moon as we seek out the raw materials for a new age of exploration.'
Scarab was designed and built for NASA's Human Robot Systems programme by Carnegie Mellon. It serves as a terrestrial testbed for technologies that would be used to explore craters at the moon's southern pole, where a robot would operate in perpetual darkness at temperatures minus 385 degrees Fahrenheit, according to a Carnegie press release.
The rover features a novel rocker-arm suspension that enables it to negotiate sandy, rock-strewn inclines and to lower its five by three foot body to the ground for drilling operations. Scarab weighs 400 kg and can operate on just 100 watts of power.
'Last year, we demonstrated Scarab's unique maneuverability and its ability to navigate autonomously,' said David Wettergreen, associate research professor of robotics and project leader.
'This year we reconfigured Scarab to accommodate a rock sample analysis payload developed by NASA. Now it is a complete robotic system for exploring the lunar poles and prospecting for resources.'
Scarab is outfitted with a drill assembly built by the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology Inc. (Norcat) in Sudbury, Ontario. The drill takes hours to cut a metre core into a dense layer of weathered rock and soil, known as regolith. The core is then transferred into another Norcat device that pulverizes it, about one foot at a time.
Hawaii, famed for its tropical beaches, may not seem to have much in common with the moon. But the nearly 14,000-foot summit of Mauna Kea, home to a dozen major telescopes, is often snow-capped during winter months.
The NASA field test will occur at elevations of approximately 9,000 feet, where Scarab is likely to encounter rain and fog and low temperatures.
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