Until we start breaking the laws of relativity at a fair clip, the future of space travel relies on some sort of permanent bases built on the Moon and/or Mars as launching pads and production facilities. And if a lunar distillery is built that manufactures legitimate “moonshine,” even better. In any case, we’re one step closer to figuring out how to get water from lunar or Martian soil.
NASA is working on a prototype lunar soil excavator called RASSOR (sounds like “razor”), which stands for Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operation Robot. Tagged by NASA as a “blue collar robot,” RASSOR is essentially a tank’s track with an arm extended from the front and back, each equipped with a digging bucket drum that rotates in opposite directions of each other. Its mechanics are somewhat like those of late-model RC cars, which seem impervious to getting stuck, and RASSOR’s arms allow it to traverse rough landscapes and make it over obstacles.
“The primary challenge for any digging robot operating off Earth is that they have to be light and small enough to fly on a rocket, but heavy enough to operate in gravity lower than that of Earth,” explained NASA. The dual diggers allow one side to provide traction and hold the robot down while the other side is busy. The diggers are equipped with “staggered shallow scoops that shave the soil a bit at a time rather than scoop large chunks all at once.”
The skimmed soil would be dumped into a device capable of extracting any ice and water and converting the chemicals to rocket fuel or oxygen for the astronauts working wherever the machine is. This, of course, would be monumental, seeing as how 90 percent of a rocket’s mass in made up of the propellant used to get it to its destination and back. The conversion device would be attached to the lander transporting the RASSOR, with an aim of making it “the feeder for a lunar resource processing plant.”
The RASSOR is still a ways off from becoming a fully functioning reality, and the team is deciding on whether to keep the problematic rotating track or to replace it with regular wheels. Once this and a few other tweaks are hammered out, work will begin on the second prototype. I don’t understand why they don’t just invent Inspector Gadget in the first place.