Small robots could prepare Lunar surface for later manned missions

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Latin Wikipedia needs more info on the Moon; this is just about all of it: "Luna (-ae, f.) satelles naturalis Terrae est. Astrum, quod ab hominibus visitatum sit, unicum est. Nam duodecim ad coelum viatores Civitatum Foederatarum Americae in campis lunae ambulaverunt ."

Interesting article here on some of the finer details involved in operating a manned outpost on the Moon. One problem is as follows:

1) Rocket takeoffs and landings need to be fairly close to the outpost in order to make it easy to move things and people back and forth, but
2) The Moon has no atmosphere and not that much gravity, so any rocket takeoff or landing would result in a huge amount of dust being blown around, effectively sandblasting the outpost, so
3) There needs to be either some sort of barrier around the rocket launching pad, or the launching pad needs to be constructed so as to remove as much dust as possible.

It turns out that robots will be able to do this construction, which is a really big plus.
The research examined two potential solutions: 1) construction of a berm around the landing site, and 2) creation of a hard-surface landing pad using indigenous materials.

In the first solution, researchers found that two rovers weighing 150 kilograms each would take less than six months to build a berm around a landing site to block the sandblasting effect. A berm 2.6 m tall in a 50-metre semi-circle would require moving 1.2 million kilograms of lunar dirt. Robots this size can be sent to NASA's planned polar outpost site in advance of human expeditions. Astrobotic Technology Inc. has proposed that landing site preparation be provided by commercial ventures.

In the second solution, researchers showed how small robots could comb the lunar soil for rocks, gathering them to pave a durable grit-free landing pad, said John Kohut, Astrobotic's chief executive officer. "This might reduce the need to build protective berms. To discern the best approach, early robotic scouting missions need to gather on-site information about the soil's cohesion levels and whether rocks and gravel of the right size can be found at the site."
One thing not mentioned in the article is that this is only possible on the Moon thanks to its location, some 1.3 light seconds away from us, which makes operating the robots from the surface possible. If the destination were Mars the robots would have to have a much more independent guidance system, or we would have to wait about 10 minutes or more at a time as commands are sent to the robot, the robot carries out the command, the signal comes back to Earth, and then we can finally decide what to tell it to do next. To the Moon and back would be more like the delay you often see in places like CNN with interviews with overseas correspondents; not too bad overall. Once again there's no comparison when it comes to location.


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