TUCSON, Arizona – The idea of space mining is growing in popularity. Engineers at the University of Arizona hatch a plan to harvest the moon’s resources. They will do so with a new excavation technique using swarms of autonomous robots to exploit lunar resources. The research team received a $ 500,000 two-year grant from NASA to advance methods of space exploration.
“This is a really super exciting grant that allows us to really work in this area of excavation, site preparation and resource development,” said Jekan Thanga, associate professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering.
Thanga developed a system called HEART to help them with their research. It is an autonomous robotic system that will train the robots to work together and improve over time.
“It’s also a system that cooperates with humans. So humans work with the system to identify new scenarios, identify unknown scenarios, and then work together to find a suitable solution, ”Thanga said.
A solution, for example, like extracting the core of the moon.
“To break this rock, it takes enough power to light a 100-watt bulb for about an hour. So if we’re going to do the same on the moon, we’re going to need more efficient processes, ”said Moe Momayez, acting head of the mining and geological engineering department.
To mine and drill on the moon, Momayez has developed a process that can drill through rock five times faster than any other method.
“So, with water being a scarce commodity on the moon, we may have to modify our technique to use very little water or no water at all,” Momayez said.
The team still sees humans as an essential part of space exploration, but these robot swarms could allow astronauts to focus on other elements of the mission.
“We know UA is at the forefront of space exploration. This is therefore a first for the mining department and the new mining and mineral resources school. We are really opening the doors to space mining, ”Momayez said.
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