NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Admin.) has issued a challenge to build a robotic machine that can excavate and haul moon dust. Towed scraper manufacturer Miskin is supporting one response.
NASA has developed a reactor that can extract oxygen, hydrogen, and other useful elements from lunar regolith (mood dust), a major step towards establishing a permanent, inhabited lunar base.
The 2009 Regolith Excavation Challenge was conceived to promote development of designs to excavate and haul lunar regolith to the reactor. Entries had to be able to mine a minimum of 331 pounds of regolith, a very fine type of dirt found on the moon in under 30 minutes using no more power than that of a light bulb. Therobots had to be fully or semi-autonomous and able to navigate around obstacles using only technologies that would function on the moon. Machine weight was limited to 176 pounds.
Miskin sponsored the TREAD team’s attempt at the challenge. The team of 30 University of British Columbia student and teaching engineers designed a crawler-mounted scraper that used multiple buckets to load more efficiently. Bucket design is based on soil excavators used in coal strip-mining operations.
Unfortunately, due to NASA network interface issues beyond Team TREAD’s control at the Challenge event, the MoonScraper was unable to work for much of its allotted 30 minutes. In three cycles completed (they had planned 10 to 12 cycles), the MoonScraper hauled 60 kg of material, loading faster and requiring less energy than any other contestant. It also generated far less dust, and was very maneuverable.