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New lunar robot will work all day, every day

NASA is building an incredible lunar digging robot that could work all day, every day for years. This robot will be as different from the Curiosity rover as night and day, according to a news release from the space agency. While Curiosity has been packed with plenty of delicate scientific instruments for analyzing soil on the red planet, NASA’s latest creation will be both sturdy and reliable and contain fewer complex parts.

Called RASSOR, for Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot, the robot is years from being ready to work on the moon. However, engineers are already impressed with its abilities.

“We were surprised at what we could do with it,” said Rachel Cox, a Kennedy Space Center engineer on the RASSOR team, in a statement.

NASA engineers note that the biggest challenge for any robot digging on the lunar surface is that they have to be small enough to fly on a rocket, but heavy enough to operate in gravity lower than that of Earth.

“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, in a statement.

Engineers plan to deal with the issue by giving RASSOR digging bucket drums at each end of the robot’s body that rotate in opposite directions.

“We proved that if you engage one bucket, it pulls itself but when you lower the other bucket and rotate it, once they both catch in, it starts digging,” Nick said.

Engineers expect the RASSOR to weigh approximately 100 pounds and stand about 2 1/2 feet tall when the drums are positioned above its main body.

The RASSOR’s drums will help the robot step and climb over obstacles because they are mounted on moving arms. Engineers expect that the lunar excavator will be able to drive off the lander and right itself, rid itself of built up soil, and make itself into a Z-shaped position to deposit its soil collection in the hopper.

According to NASA, a 25-foot-square area has been cleared in part of the engineers’ workshop to make room for a large delivery of soil that will allow the robot to be put through its paces in material close to what it will encounter on the moon.

Credit: NASA.