NASA engineers working on lunar excavation robot

Engineers at NASA are developing what they call a blue collar robot that could be the next big step toward a lunar resource processing plant.

The Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot, or RASSOR (pronounced like “razor”), is being designed to excavate soil from the Moon’s surface and then deposit it into a device that would extract water, ice and various chemicals to produce everything from rocket fuel to breathable air for astronauts.

If successful, this would greatly reduce payload weights because many resources could be cultivated on the Moon’s surface rather than transported from Earth. Consequently, the fuel requirements and costs for space missions would see significant reductions.

Paramount to the project’s success is NASA’s ability to build a robot that is “light and small enough to fly on a rocket, but heavy enough to operate in gravity lower than that of Earth.” This is where innovative methods of joining dissimilar metals come into play.

“The lighter you make your robot, the more difficult it is to do this excavating,” said A.J. Nick, an engineer on the RASSOR team.

Positioned at each end of the robot’s body are digging bucket drums whose weight offset one another. In order for them to be able to move as needed and hold 40 pounds of lunar soil at a time, metal joining methods that result in a lightweight body without sacrificing strength and durability are essential.

NASA has already run tests on an initial prototype and is currently at work on a RASSOR 2, which an agency press release says will undergo testing sometime in early 2014.

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