September 20, 2007

Carnegie Mellon Building Robot for Lunar Prospecting

Researchers in the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science are building a robotic prospector for NASA that can creep over rocky slopes and then anchor itself as a stable platform for drilling deep into extraterrestrial soils.

Called "Scarab," this four-wheeled robot will never leave the Earth. But it will demonstrate technologies that a lunar rover will need to find concentrations of hydrogen, possibly water and other volatile chemicals on the moon that could be mined to produce fuel, water and air that are essential for supporting lunar outposts.

Scarab is equipped with a Canadian-made drill for obtaining meter-long geological core samples and features a novel rocker-arm suspension that enables the robot to plant its belly on the ground for drilling operations.

To optimize efficiency, the robot must be as light as possible. But to operate the coring drill, the vehicle also has to be massive enough to apply sufficient downward pressure on the drill and counter the torque of the rotating drill. Researchers estimate it must weigh at least 250 kilograms, or about 550 pounds.

The suspension allows Scarab to make the most of its weight by enabling it to lower its 5 1/2-foot-by-3-foot body to the ground for drilling operations. "One of the design innovations was to put the drill in the center of the robot," Wettergreen said, rather than attaching it to an arm. "Scarab can apply its entire mass onto the drill, so that everything is assisting the drilling operation."

Whittaker has announced that he is assembling a team to compete for the Google Lunar X-Prize and its $20 million grand prize for operating a privately funded robot on the moon by 2012. That effort is separate and distinct from the NASA-funded Scarab project, which is developing technologies that could be used on the moon but are being tested on Earth.

I wish his team good luck on winning the X-prize. They would definitely have a very capable rover. I had posted my own outline of how to win the Google XPrize

Winning is buying a rocket ride to orbit, earth orbit to lunar orbit low energy transfer, lunar lander (several are available) and rover.


Tom Craver said...

They seem to be implying that they might make it heavier just to make it drill better. That seems rather pointless - they could just include an empty bin and fill it with lunar dust.