July 20, 2007 5:53 PM PDT

NASA tests lunar robots in Arctic crater

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--NASA is gearing up to put autonomous rovers on the moon for the first time in 2020, so to simulate the lunar conditions, the space agency is testing its robot technology on a remote Arctic crater.

On Friday, NASA scientists on an expedition to the Haughton Crater at Devon Island in Canada talked about their tests so far with two lunar robot prototypes, K10 Black and K10 Red. Preliminary tests of the four-wheel drive robots have gone well, said Matt Deans, field director of the Haughton Crater Site Survey. The only hiccup of the roughly three-week expedition has been the weather.

The researchers were expecting typical Arctic weather, with ice-cold temperatures and unpredictable storms, Deans said. This year? Not so much.

"We've had too many days of good weather. We were hoping it would rain more so we could have more time working on our code," Deans said, half joking, over a live video link from Haughton Crater sent here to NASA Ames Research Center.

NASA hasn't put autonomous robots on the moon before, only human-driven rovers. In the late 1950s, the Soviet Union landed a robotic rover on the moon called Lunokhod, a remotely controlled vehicle (via joystick) that captured imagery from television cameras.

Maria Bualat, a computer engineer on the robotics team at NASA, said that the 1.5-second time delay (3 seconds round trip) of radio communications from Earth to the moon makes it difficult to control such a device with precision. So when NASA got its mission orders to send astronauts back to the moon in 2020, it sought to design a more autonomous robot that will be able to perform missions and also act quickly on commands from humans on the moon. Her team has been working on K10 Black and K10 Red for the past couple of years.

"We talk about the three 'D's'--dull, dirty and dangerous--and taking away those jobs from humans and giving them to the robots," said Bualat, referring to tasks such as site surveys of the lunar surface.

If the robots are designed to interact with humans (who would send them mission commands), then they need to respond and move faster than the Mars rovers. Those rovers move at a crawl, Bualat said.

The two K10 series robots, which weigh about 165 pounds each, navigate with GPS (Global Positioning System), stereo cameras and sun trackers. They also track terrain with 3D laser scanners, which can map topographic features 3,280 feet away, and ground-sensing radar that can graph terrain 16.4 feet under the surface. According to NASA scientists, the robots cover areas in "lawn mower-like paths" at human walking speeds to obtain 3D maps of the terrain above and below ground.

NASA rover

The rovers cost about $100,000 each to build, including equipment and manufacturing, according to Bualat. But that price tag doesn't include development of the software and algorithms, which in part come from NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, Calif. The lab built and operates the Mars Exploratory rovers, and NASA Ames has borrowed its navigation software for the lunar robots.

But as for the computer hardware on the robots, "this is just the Fry's version," said David Korsmeyer, chief of NASA's Intelligent Systems Division. He was referring to the fact that all the parts on the rover could be bought at the electronics retailer. NASA, however, has developed some proprietary power systems for the rovers.

"The space version would be much more expensive," he said.

NASA is primarily focused on perfecting the software for the vehicles, according to Bualat. It contracts the manufacturing of the robotic hardware from a group at Carnegie Mellon University. Ultimately, when the software is ready, NASA will need to upgrade the manufacturing of the robots so that they are temperature- and break-resistant, for example. That's what would add greatly to the cost.

The robotics team selected Haughton Crater for its tests because it's geographically similar to Shackleton Crater at the south pole of the moon, which also measures about 12.4 miles in diameter. The rovers are covering an area of the crater known as Drill Hill. The dry, rocky terrain of this area is similar to the moon's surface. The crew plans to test the bots, which are wirelessly controlled using 803.11g, over 120 acres in the crater, collecting 3D maps and data.

"We wanted to bring our robots to a place that's a good analog for the moon," Deans said.

NASA eventually plans to send these kinds of faster rovers from the moon onto Mars and, there, the robots will need to be even more autonomous. (The Mars Exploratory rovers currently move at a crawl, according to Bualat.) Because Mars is much farther than the moon, the time delay of communication transmission is 15 minutes one way, according to Korsmeyer.

"On Mars, autonomy is a necessity," Bualat said. "But Mars is further in the future."

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14 comments

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Maybe a really dumb question
Article states that the navigation is based on GPS. How can GPS work on the Moon?
Posted by wds_oregon (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
GPS on the moon
GPS will work on the moon if you have
clear transmission to the GPS satellites,
you just need 3 for triangulation.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.gps.gov/applications/space/index.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.gps.gov/applications/space/index.html</a>

While your on the backside away from the
Earth I think you are out of luck.

And you have to figure for a bit more
delay due to the distance.

So I think they will most likely be working
on the side that faces the earth, it doesn't
rotate...

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.digipro.com/Trials/moon.html" target="_newWindow">http://www.digipro.com/Trials/moon.html</a>
Posted by Ex-MislTech (12 comments )
Link Flag
Satalites to aid the safty of the next generation of bugs
you know like how you can heat bubbles, could NASA like use the effect to ward off danger in the future
Posted by wildchild_plasma_gyro (296 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Software failures
How will the rovers recover from the inevitable software failures? The software needed to make the lunar rover semi-autonomous will be pretty intricate.

Reboots help, but I think the rovers would need more self-healing software to recover gracefully from more minor failures.
Posted by bluemist9999 (1020 comments )
Reply Link Flag
truth 2 the people .keep earasing i will keep posting
DONT BELIEVE EVERYTHING THAT THE GOVERNMENT AND NASA TELL YOU.WE ARE FAR AHEAD THAN YOU THINK.WE ALREADY HAVE HUMAN/ALIEN CO EXISTING ON THE MOON,MARS,AND BELIEVE IT OR NOT, ALASKA.EVERY ONE SHOULD TAKE THE TIME AND EFFORT TO UNDERSTAND.AND TO LOOK UP "WILLIAM COOPER"THE TRUTH ABOUT ALIENS AND JFK SHOOTING.AND ABOUT ALL THE INFORMATION THAT WAS RECENTLY HANDED OVER BY THE "CIA".EVERY ONE GOES ON WITH THERE DAY TO DAY LIFE WORK,HOME,PAY BILLS,TAX,AND YET EVERY ONE IS BLIND AND CLOSED MINDED.TO AFRAID TO BELIEVE THE TRUTH,TO EVEN HEAR THE TRUTH.THATS BECAUSE YOU ARE ALL MANIPULATED.IM NOT MENTAL,OR PART OF ANY GROUP OR ASSOCIATION. I AM A27 YEAR OLD MAN THAT BEEN PUTTING INFORMATION TOGETHER BY USING THE INTERNET AND BOOKS.BOOKS THAT WERE BANNED FROM THE PUBLIC EYE.I BEEN DOING THIS FOR 10 YEARS NOW.ALSO LEARNIG ABOUT AIDS AND HOW THE GOVERNMENT MADE THE DISEASE TO KILL OFF A DISTANT COUNTRY BUT UNEXPECTEDLY GREW QUICK,AN UNABLE TO CONTROL.ALSO ABOUT THE GOVERNMENT HAVING THE CURE BUT NOT WANTING TO USE IT BECAUSE THEY ARE MAKING SO MUCH MONEY WITH PRESCRIPTION DRUGS THAT JUST SLOW THE DISEASE DOWN A LITTLE.ALSO WHY ARE PEOPLE EVEN WORKING!!!WHEN MONEY IS AT A MINUS,WHAT THE HELL WE WORKING FOR A PIECE OF PAPER THAT HAS A NUMBER ON IT.ONCE AGAIN PEOPLE,MONEY IS AT A MINUS ,THINK ABOUT IT.IF NO ONE HEARS FROM ME AGAIN THAT MEANS THE GOVERNMENT HAS GOT TO ME,CIA.THE SHADOW GOVERNMENT.WITCH EVEN STEVEN SPIELBERG THE MOVIE DIRECTOR/PRODUCER IS APART OF!WHERE DO YOU THINK HE GETS HIS INFO FOR HIS MOVIE'S OF THE BENDED TRUTH.99% OF HIS MOVIES ARE TRUE.BUT , HE WAS ONLY TOLD TO MAKE IT LOOK LIKE IF THERE WERE MADE UP.BELIEVE WHAT YOU WANT BUT RESEARCH IT YOURSELF IF YOU DON'T BELIEVE ME.IT TAKES PATIENTS TO DO SO.THIS IS NO JOKE THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS GOING ON RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU AND UNDER YOU.JUST LOOK UP "WILLIAM COOPER ALIENS,JFK THERE ARE 9 PARTS TO THIS VIDEO ON YOUTUBE".WE MUST BAND TOGETHER AND PULL UP THE GOVERNMENTS SKIRT TO SEE WHAT THEY TRULY ARE.DONT GET ME WRONG I LOVE MY COUNTRY,IF THE GOVERNMENT WOULD ONLY BE TRUTHFUL TO ITS PEOPLE AND BRING BACK THE CONSTITUTION.THEN LET THE BALANCE TAKE ITS PLACE,AND LET GOD TRULY BLESS AMERICA,THE MELTING POT OF THE WORLD.
Posted by truth2thepeople (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
question?why is it hard to find william cooper books?
i don't know why,but i tried a lot of public libraries and i have found nothing i don't understand hhmmm??
Posted by truth2thepeople (3 comments )
Link Flag
Well, I needed a good laugh
thanks
Posted by lbytesxk (217 comments )
Link Flag
you lunatic
dear truth 2 the people, just because you read it on the internet or in a book , doesnt make it true,i cant beleive i am even bothering to reply to your insane paranoid gibberish,i am in a **** headspace at the moment, so i feel like picking on someone who is obviously ill educated and gormless,look just stop immersing yourself in alien conspiracy theory rubbish and get some help you moron
Posted by lezstar (4 comments )
Link Flag
Oopsey
"In the late 1950s, the Soviet Union landed a robotic rover on the moon called Lunokhod, a remotely controlled vehicle (via joystick) that captured imagery from television cameras."

Just for the record that happened in 1970. It was tough enough to get a tin foil basketball into earth orbit for a few cycles in the late 1950's...forget about hitting the moon with a (joystick) controlled vehicle
Posted by Scott O. (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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