§ 4.8.2 Teleoperation and Automation for Exploration
The Russian lunar exploration and sample return program of the early 1970s was based on the Lunokhod teleoperated robots.
LunaCorp in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute is developing a robotic probe to travel across the lunar surface, including a prototype which was tested in a 200 km journey across the Atacama Desert in Chile in the summer of 1997. Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute is one of the leading university-based robotics institutions in the world, and has performed a few studies into robotics for lunar materials utilization.
Sandia National Laboratories (SNL) has recently developed the Robotic All Terrain Lunar Exploration Rover (RATLER), running a prototype across rough terrain. The RATLER is a four wheel vehicle about 1.2 meters long and wide, with four 50 cm diameter wheels. Its design allows all four wheels to maintain ground contact even when crossing very rough terrain, which expands its capabilities. The RATLER is equipped with a variety of sensors to determine the position of its various parts, its orientation with respect to horizontal, its position, and its environment. Unfortunately, no WWW page was known to exist on the RATLER as of June 1997.
SNL is the foremost U.S. government research and development site for robotics, including:
- the SNL Space Systems Directorate, which has been designing, producing and operating satellite systems and subsystems in Earth orbit for national security missions since the early 1960s
- the SNL Robotic Vehicle Range (RVR) which has been used to support technology base development in applications ranging from Defense Dept. battlefield and security missions, to multi-agency nuclear power plant emergency response team exercises, and the development of a prototype robotic rover for planetary exploration
Without a doubt, there exist many talented and experienced people at Sandia National Laboratories, and much leading edge technology which was performed at taxpayer expense and is thus nonproprietary, all of which could be applied to space industrialization in this post-Cold War period.
As written by SNL's P. Klarer, Senior Technical Associate, Advanced Vehicle Development Dept, Robotic Vehicle Range (with the help of Dr. James W. Purvis of the Space Robotics Programs office):
"Recent activities at the SNL-RVR include the Robotic All Terrain Lunar Exploration Rover (RATLER) prototype development program, exploratory studies on a Near Term Lunar Return Mission scenario for small robotic rovers based on existing space hardware technology, and demonstrations of the utility of existing rover technologies for performing remote field geology tasks similar to those envisioned on a robotic lunar rover mission. Specific technologies demonstrated include low data rate teleoperation, multi-vehicle control, remote site and sample inspection, and standard bandwidth stereo vision. These activities serve to support the use of robotic rovers for an early return to the lunar surface by demonstrating capabilities that are attainable with off-the-shelf technology and existing control techniques.
"Due to the breadth of technical activities at SNL, there are many supporting technology areas for space robotics applications development. These range from core competency areas in advanced aerodynamics, computing, and microsensor technologies, to the actual design, production and space-qualification of flight components using existing in-house capabilities...
"Existing launch capacity in the form of either the [Space Shuttle] or from the military stable of vehicles, coupled to existing upper stage hardware, navigation and guidance techniques, and passive deceleration and landing hardware, could realistically place several small robotic rover vehicles on the lunar surface with a single launch. Robotic rovers are a proven technology for lunar exploration, so long as a high degree of autonomy is not required." (paper reference)
SNL has produced a RATLER I and a RATLER II, and has performed robotic geological assessments, showing the advantages of having more than one robot in order to show multiple perspectives of sites of interest.
One of the studies at Sandia National Laboratories was into using a converted military ICBM (InterContinental Ballistic Missile) MIRV (Multiple Independently targetable Reentry Vehicle) carrier bus, but instead of having multiple nuclear warheads, to put six to ten lunar rovers onto the bus and send it to lunar orbit. Once in lunar orbit, the MIRV platform would launch the rovers down to specific sites on the lunar surface in a manner very similar to that used for targetting military missiles on the ground in another continent. Of course, this is a very mature technology using off the shelf components (or off-the-missile components).
In this study, the MIRV bus maneuvers to an orbit just 5 to 10 kilometers above the lunar surface (15,000 to 30,000 feet), and then ejects the rovers backwards. A 5 kilogram storable fuel propellant retro engine fires to slow the rover to an almost complete stop not far above the lunar surface. The rover cannisters then free fall to the lunar surface. They are fitted with air bags (like those in automobiles and for Mars Pathfinder's landing) which cushions their fall, at a speed which even a human could withstand. The air bags are inflated not upon impact (as in a car) but just prior to impact, using, of course, a military Reentry Vehicle (RV) radar proximity fuse.
Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute has been testing some autonomous navigation programs on the RATLER.
We could also utilize the 1970s technology used to land the Russian Lunokhod robots on the Moon for the successful Russian lunar sample return missions, and the two U.S. Viking landers on Mars as well. For the past 20 years, the Russians have been developing a follow-on robot called the Marsokhod, which draws its heritage from the Lunokhod robots.
Carnegie-Mellon University's Autonomous Planetary Exploration Program (APEX) has also been building the Daedalus robot, a highly automated walking robot with six legs, which belongs to a class of robots called "frame walkers". Daedalus will be quite large, at about 2 meters tall and 200 kg. Daedalus is designed to be a combination lander/rover. (paper reference)
There is much existing literature on Mars rovers which could be mechanically applied to the Moon and applied programming-wise to asteroids since Mars is further away than some attractive asteroids and requires longer communications times, thus necessitating a high degree of automation relative to teleoperation. For example, there is the "Beamwalker" developed by Martin Marietta Corp. for a potential NASA mission called the Mars Sample Return Mission. (paper reference)
Robots for landing on and exploring an asteroid would be of a mechanically different design due to the microgravity environment of an asteroid, as discussed at length in the asteroids chapter.
PERMANENT.com > Manufacturing, Industry > Robotics > Surface Exploration
PERMANENT needs a PHP / MySQL (actually, MariaDB) programmer. Are you a PHP / MySQL programmer interested in getting into space development as a career, or already working in space development? Or do you know somebody else who might be interested?
There is an ongoing process to update this website in 2019 with a target relaunch in 2020.
This website is actually very out of date. Much of the website text content was written in the 1980s to early 2000s, but that's a different matter. As regards PHP / MySQL, some offline databases go into the 2010s, as regards professional publications, engineers, companies, etc., and this is what we need programming help with. We are updating our databases on people, organizations, publications, and other things, for open source space development for all.
The current status is we have some working databases which we have been using internally for a long time for organizing professional publications, and to track people (authors, R&D people, other professionals, quality volunteers, journalists, etc.) and organizations. We want to put information online for the general public pending a security review of the programming code.
Step 1 is fixing some bugs in what we already have, the PHP code. It is functional, and been used a long time, but there are some bugs.
Step 2 will be improving the system. Some small improvements would help its usability.
Step 3 will be a security check for putting it online for the general public to be able to access and use, but with reasonable protection against hackers.
After Step 3, the main mission is accomplished, as regards PHP / MySQL, though of course we hope to keep people engaged and happy, and the sky's not the limit.
This is a volunteer, unpaid role at this point in time. A limited paid role would be considered on a tight budget, such as for at least bug fixing with some minor improvements, and/or a security review of our code before it goes online publicly. If you or one of your friends or associates may be interested, please send an email to spaceprogrammer at ... of course this domain.
Reasons to do something yourself:
- It will help save life on our special planet -- be part of the solution in your generation.
- It will create and secure a better future for your children and grandchildren.
- It could be an interesting, cool, and a fun adventure for your life!
You can join us and volunteer to help out,
... or ...
If you're short on time, you can just donate:
The Permanent Space Development Foundation, Inc., is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
If you would like to make a quick donation to our humanistic cause,
then please click on one of the buttons below (which go to PayPal).
... or by cryptocurrency (which is NOT tax deductible), you can donate into any of these wallets:
... or ...
Suggest this website to other people and organizations.
To get updates on PERMANENT (occasional, not frequent), get on our mailing list.
For general or specific e-mail regarding PERMANENT, please use our Feedback page.
Leave information about yourself in our people, companies, and organizations database.
If you are interested in hiring our expertise, anywhere in the world, please contact us.
We have people in the USA and Thailand, and can travel or consult by internet.
You can call anytime, 24/7, at +66-8-1135-7977
Text by Mark Prado, Copyright © 1983-2021, All Rights Reserved.
Many website artistic design elements by Sam Fraser, Copyright © 1999-2021, All Rights Reserved.
Except where specifically stated otherwise,
Copyright © 1983-2021 by Mark Evan Prado, All Rights Reserved
P rojects to E mploy R esources of the M oon and
A steroids N ear E arth in the N ear T erm
please see our
For PCs, this righthand
side has a floating menu,
but if your tablet
or your PCs web browser
do not run
then you must
-- navigate --
using the Site Map above.