NASA eyes levitating robotic practice for the moon

Artist concept of novel approach proposed by a 2024 NIAC Phase II awardee for possible future missions depicting lunar surface with planet Earth on the horizon.
Artist idea of novel strategy proposed by a 2024 NIAC Phase II awardee for potential future missions depicting lunar floor with planet Earth on the horizon. NASA/Ethan Schaler

NASA is exploring the concept of constructing a railway on the lunar floor that makes use of levitating robots to supply “reliable, autonomous, and efficient payload transport on the moon.”

The area company stated the Flexible Levitation on a Track (FLOAT) system would play a key function within the every day operations of an astronaut-inhabited lunar base, which NASA is hoping to construct within the 2030s as a part of the Artemis program.

FLOAT could be used to maneuver regolith mined for development or to move payloads across the lunar base in addition to to and from touchdown zones or different places like exploration websites.

In a post on NASA’s website, Ethan Schaler of the area company’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory stated the FLOAT system would deploy “unpowered magnetic robots that levitate over a 3-layer flexible film track: a graphite layer enables robots to passively float over tracks using diamagnetic levitation, a flex-circuit layer generates electromagnetic thrust to controllably propel robots along tracks, and an optional thin-film solar panel layer generates power for the base when in sunlight.”

Individual FLOAT robots could be able to transporting payloads of various sizes and styles at speeds of as much as o.5 meters per second, and a large-scale system would have the ability to transfer as much as 100,000 kilograms of fabric “multiple kilometers per day.”

Schaler defined the the FLOAT robots would don’t have any shifting components and would levitate over the observe to reduce lunar mud abrasion that might trigger injury to the system over time. As a outcome, much less upkeep would could be required in comparison with, say, lunar robots with wheels, legs, or tracks.

The tracks for FLOAT would arrive on the moon rolled up earlier than being unfurled straight onto the lunar floor, taking away the necessity for difficult and time-consuming development work by astronauts.

The fascinating thought nonetheless has some solution to go earlier than it might probably turn out to be a actuality. The subsequent step is to construct a collection of sub-scale robotic and observe prototypes for testing in a lunar-analog atmosphere in order that the FLOAT design may be refined and improved. Systems for manufacturing the required {hardware} at scale may even should be developed.

NASA is aiming to ship astronauts again to the moon within the Artemis III mission currently set for 2026, and after that it needs to construct a moonbase the place astronauts can reside and work in an identical solution to how they do on the International Space Station right this moment.

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