Mower-sized robots may help prepare NASA's Moon landing pad

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Washington, Feb 26 (ANI): A new study has indicated that small robots the size of riding mowers could prepare a safe landing site for NASA's Moon outpost in the future.

The study, by Astrobotic Technology and Carnegie Mellon researchers, analyzed mission requirements and developed the design for an innovative new type of small lunar robot under contract from NASA's Lunar Surface Systems group.

"NASA faces a challenge in planning the layout for its outpost, which is expected to begin operations in 2020," said William Whittaker, chairman and chief technical officer of Astrobotic and a Carnegie Mellon professor of robotics.

"For efficient cargo transfer, the landing site needs to be close to the outpost's crew quarters and laboratories. Each rocket landing and takeoff, however, will accelerate lunar grit outwards from the pad. With no atmosphere to slow it down, the dry soil would sandblast the outpost," he added.

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 330 pounds each would take less than six months to build a berm around a landing site to block the sandblasting effect.

A berm 8.5 feet tall in a 160-foot semi-circle would require moving 2.6 million pounds of lunar dirt.

Robots this size can be sent to NASA's planned polar outpost site in advance of human expeditions.

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, according to John Kohut, Astrobotic's chief executive officer.

"This might reduce the need to build protective berms," said Kohut.

"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," he added. (ANI)

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