Washington, Oct 15 : Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, NASA and other organizations will test a robot designed for lunar prospecting, on Hawaii's Mauna Kea.
During the field experiment from November 1-13, the 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 four-wheeled robot will trek to different sites, using a Canadian-built drill to obtain a one-meter geologic core at each site.
On-board instruments developed by NASA will chemically analyze each core.
"People will not return to the moon for prolonged stays unless we can find resources there to help sustain them," said University Professor William Whittaker, director of the Robotics Institute's Field Robotics Center.
"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," he added.
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 of minus 385 degrees Fahrenheit.
The rover features a novel rocker-arm suspension that enables it to negotiate sandy, rock-strewn inclines and to lower its 5 1/2-foot by 3-foot body to the ground for drilling operations.
Scarab weighs 400 kilograms (about 880 pounds) 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," he added.
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 one-meter 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.
The crushed rock and soil drops into the Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatile Extraction (RESOLVE) experiment being developed by NASA's In Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) program.
Inside RESOLVE's heating chamber, the sample is heated to 900 degrees Celsius.
Gases released by the heat are transported to a gas chromatograph, an instrument that identifies individual chemicals and their relative abundance, and to absorption beds, each of which measures a particular compound of interest.
It takes up to 20 hours to analyze an entire one-meter core.