The robotic survey of record-breaking lunar craters and mining resources in space could help NASA establish a sustained human presence on the Moon – part of the agency's broader approach of exploring Moon to Mars. Two mission concepts to explore these capabilities were selected as the first Phase III studies within NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.
"We are looking for new technologies throughout our development portfolio that can help make space exploration more independent of the Earth by utilizing resources on the Moon and beyond," said Jim Reuter, associate administrator of NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate. "These NIAC Phase III selections are a component of this forward-looking research and we hope new insights will help us achieve more innovations in space."
The Phase III proposals describe an aerospace architecture, including a mission concept, which is innovative and can change what is possible in space. Each selection will receive up to $ 2 million. Over the course of two years, researchers will refine the concept and explore aspects of implementing the new technology. The initial selections of Phase III are:
Robotic Technologies Enabling the Exploration of Wells
William Whittaker, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh
This concept of mission, called Skylight, proposes technologies for the rapid survey and modeling of lunar craters. This mission would use high resolution images to create a crater 3D model. The data would be used to determine if a crater could be exploited by human or robotic missions.
The information could also be used to characterize ice on the Moon, a crucial capability for sustained surface operations of NASA's Artemis program. On Earth, the technology could be used to independently monitor mines and quarries.
Mini Bee Prototype to Demonstrate Apis Mission Architecture and Optical Mining Technology
Joel Sercel, TransAstra Corporation, Terrace with Lake View, California
This concept of flight demonstration mission proposes a method of collecting asteroid resources called optical mining. Optical mining is an approach to dig an asteroid and extract water and other volatiles into an inflatable bag. Called Mini Bee, the mission concept aims to prove optical mining, in conjunction with other innovative spacecraft systems, can be used to get propellant in space. The proposed architecture includes prospecting, extraction and delivery of resources.
NASA selected the Phase III proposals through a review process that evaluated the innovation capacity and technical feasibility of the proposed projects. All projects are still in the early stages of development, but this final phase is designed to mature technologies so that they can be transferred to government and industry for implementation.
"This is the first year that NASA has offered a Phase III NIAC opportunity, and there have been many strong proposals," said Jason Derleth, NIAC program executive. "We selected two proposals because we believe that both technologies could positively impact the industry. We are thrilled that these technology concepts could help humanity explore space in new ways."
The NIAC program supports visionary research ideas through multiple progressive phases of study. Although the NIAC grants two Phase III studies in 2019, the program expects to grant a Phase III per year in subsequent years.
NIAC partners with scientists, engineers and inventors of citizens across the country to help maintain US leadership in the air and space. The NIAC is funded by the NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate, responsible for developing new technologies and pioneering and cross-cutting capabilities necessary for the agency to achieve its current and future missions.
Accused of returning astronauts to the moon in five years, NASA's lunar exploration plans are based on a two-stage approach: the first is focused on speed – landing on the moon in 2024 – while the second will establish a sustained human presence the Moon until 2028. We will then use what we learned on the Moon to prepare to send astronauts to Mars.
Related Reports Phase II study report – Cavehopping and
II study report – Sustainable Human Exploration.
NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Program (NIAC).
All about robots on Earth and beyond!
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Army Project develops agile reconnaissance robots
Search Triangle Park NC (SPX) June 3, 2019
In a research project for the US Army, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have developed an agile robot, called Salto, that looks like a miniature Star Wars Imperial wanderer and can aid search and rescue operations.
Robots like this could someday be used to save lives of fighters and civilians, the researchers said.
Arriving at less than one foot, Salto, which means saltatorial locomotion (jumping like a grasshopper) on terrain obstacles, … read more