The cool, rocky slopes of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano that is Hawaii's highest mountain, will serve as a stand-in for the moon as researchers from Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute, NASA and other organizations test a robot designed for lunar prospecting.
During the field experiment, Nov. 1-13, the robot called
Scarab will simulate a lunar mission to extract water, hydrogen, oxygen and
other compounds that potentially could 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 1-meter geologic core at each site. Each core
will be chemically analyzed by on-board instruments developed by NASA.
"People will not return to the moon for prolonged stays
unless we can find resources there to help sustain them," says University
Professor William "Red" 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."
Scarab was designed and built for NASA's Human Robot Systems
program by Carnegie Mellon. 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
F. The rover features a novel rocker-arm suspension that enables it to
negotiate sandy, rock-strewn inclines, and to lower its 5 ½-foot by 3-foot body
to the ground for drilling operations. Scarab weighs 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," says 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."
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 1-meter core into a dense layer of weathered rock
and soil, known as regolith. The core then is transferred into another Norcat
device that pulverizes it, about one foot at a time.
Hawaii, famed for its tropical beaches, may not seem to have
much in common with the moon. But the nearly 14,000-foot summit of Mauna Kea,
home to a dozen major telescopes, often is snow-capped during winter months.
The field test will occur at elevations of approximately 9,000 feet, where
Scarab likely is to encounter rain and fog and daytime temperatures of about 40
Lunar Prospecting Robot to Be Field-tested on Hawaii's Mauna Kea
October 15, 2008