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Early Lunar Telerobot Conceptual Notes

To keep things in perspective about lunar telerobots: we're thinking of equipment we'll have around during the first few manned flights. As the mining operation grows we'll need lots of heavy equipment on the moon, but the first step is getting there.

We don't have a specific design for the dirt-moving equipment yet, but the relative masses the machines will have to handle for dirt moving and people moving makes the picture of the telerobot doubling as a rover attractive. If we have a vehicle that can transport heavy loads of moon dirt, it should also be able to transport the crew.

We keep using the term "dirt-mover" instead of "bulldozer" because the concept of pushing during around with a scoop probably will not work well on the moon. Lunar regolith tends to compact and jam together, so the machine would wind up spinning its wheels. We could add lots of weight to give it better traction, but that means lots more power required. There are more elegant solutions than brute force. Some of our later cartoons show brush rollers to kick the dirt around. We also need to experiment with vibrating blades; we might be able to keep the moondust particles jumping around enough to prevent their adhesion to each other.

This might be a leap of faith in the dirt-mover's basic requirements, though. The dirt-mover doesn't need to move lots of dirt all at once. It just has to work steadily until its job is done. We should keep these multiple functions in mind as we develop the machines; in addition to saving money, common hardware increases the flexibility of the equipment to be adapted to other uses which might come up.

LunaCorp's rover, as envisioned by Carnegie-Mellon, probably will not be able to transport heavy loads. Its mission is to traverse 1200 kilometers across the face of the moon, and its payload is top-notch cameras and communications gear. The major engineering challenge (besides getting it there) is designing equipment that will survive the trip. It's an explorer, not a miner. (We tend to think of the "Back to the Moon" CD-ROM as a preview of coming attractions.)

However, that rover design has important roles to play both as an explorer and as a prototype for other equipment. It has the cameras and mobility we need for external photography during the manned missions, and its communication equipment might double as a homing signal for subsequent landers. We'll need long-range explorers to go snooping for polar ice and for spelunking all over the moon.

As a prototype it solves many of the technology problems we're facing, especially if CMU designs it so that the machine can be repaired and put back into service once we get a mechanic up there.

Obviously we have an affinity for LunaCorp's project because of its commercial nature, but in fairness we should mention that lots of other folks are looking at concepts for moon rovers, too. (For instance, McDonnell Douglas assembled their Lunar/Mars Rover prototype in the shop in Houston.) So when the time comes the Artemis Project might have quite a stable of existing designs to apply to the task of lunar surface robotics. We might need all of them.

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