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Miners! NASA Wants To License RASSOR Excavator

RASSOR (Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot) is NASA's cool teleoperated mobile robotic platform with a space regolith excavation capability. NASA has just announced that they would like to license this technology!


(RASSOR (Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot) video)

Getting mass into the right shape is one of the goals of NASA’s Swamp Works. The laboratory, based at Kennedy Space Center, in Merritt Island, Fla., occupies a building where Apollo astronauts once trained; it now boasts perhaps the world’s largest collection of “lunar simulant”—artificial moon dirt. Some 120 tons of the stuff, detritus of a mining operation in Black Point, Ariz., sit in a glass-walled room.

Here physicist Philip Metzger and his colleagues test the Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot, or RASSOR, a rugged-looking industrial rover the size of a bumper car. RASSOR is more or less rectangular when stretched out. At each end, a pair of pivoting arms holds a long, hollow, rotating drum, studded with shovel-shaped openings.

For digging leverage against the moon’s reduced gravity, these drums are rotated in opposite directions, collecting lunar soil as they spin. When full, the robot can drive to a processing station, fold up so as to place a drum above a collection spot, and rotate the drum in reverse to empty it.

Science fiction fans have been gaga over lunar mining for generations. In his excellent 1930 classic Brigands of the Moon, golden age great Ray Cummings describes a lunar mining operation:

The third building seemed a lean-to banked against the cliff wall, a slanting shed-wall of glassite fifty feet high and two hundred in length. Under it, for months Grantline bores had dug into the cliff. Braced tunels were hewn penetrating back and downward into the vein of rock.

The work was over. The borers had been dismantled and packed away. At one end of the cliff the mining equipment lay piled in a ltter. There was a heap of discarded ore where Grantline had carted and dumped it after his crude refining process had yielded it as waste. The ore slag lay like gray powder flakes strewn down the cliff.
(Read more about a 1930's lunar mining operation)

Don't forget about Robert Heinlein's description of lunar ice mining in his 1966 classic The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

I'd also add a reference to the factory crawler from Frank Herbert's 1965 novel Dune. Good news for dune men - it can be teleoperated, which reduces the danger of being swallowed by a sandworm!

Via IEEE Spectrum and NASA technology.

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