Robotic Prospector Under Development at Carnegie Mellon
Researchers in the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science are building a robotic prospector for NASA.
Credit: Debra Tobin

A prototype lunar prospecting robot called "Scarab" has been developed at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute.

David Wettergreen, leader of Scarab?s software and autonomy development, said, "This is a technology development program that is focusing on extracting hydrogen and oxygen from lunar soil." At present, NASA has no specific plans for a robotic Moon mission. (However, other countries are working on it; China is planning a robotic lunar sampling mission by 2017.)


Once Scarab (see photo) and its kin have crawled the Moon, developers will use the lessons learned to utilize resources in the soil of other planets.


The drill on the robot is able to obtain "meter-long geological core samples and features a novel rocker-arm suspension that enables the robot to plant its belly on the ground." By placing the drill at the center of the robot's body, Scarab is able to apply sufficient downward force for drilling while keeping its weight at 250 kilograms.


Scarab solves the problem of working in dark craters (not to mention the 14 day lunar night) by using an advanced sterling radioisotope generator (ASRG). The ASRG is a device that converts the heat of isotope decay into electrical power. This generator provides energy for ten years of activity.


Science fiction writers have been thinking about mining on the moon for at least seventy-five years; Ray Cummings wrote a very lucid description of lunar mining in 1931. Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven thought up the idea of telepresence bulldozers; the bulldozer was on the moon and the operator was here on Earth.


Via The Tartan (Carnegie Mellon's student newspaper).


(This Science Fiction in the News story used with permission of - where science meets fiction


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