Another private lunar rover unveiled


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Capitalism in space: The private start-up company Lunar Outpost today unveiled its tiny 10 kilogram (22 pound) rover, designed to map lunar resources.

The first Prospector was demonstrated driving and drilling in Lunar regolith simulant at the Colorado School of Mines’ new Lunar testbed facility in the Earth Mechanics Institute overseen by the Center for Space Resources. This event marks the first commercial Lunar Prospector publicly tested in the United States.

Evidence of valuable resources on the Lunar surface, such as water, precious metals, and helium-3 have been established by remote sensing on flyby missions around the Moon. This scientific data has been used to create general resource models of the Lunar surface, which now require ground-truthing to establish optimal landing sites and plan future resource extraction operations. Groups of Lunar Outpost Prospectors will map the surface and subsurface resources of the Moon, while autonomously navigating along waypoints and avoiding hazards such as large rocks and craters. These Prospectors can also be teleoperated if needed and can utilize NASA’s Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway concept as a center of operations.

This is a tiny inexpensive rover, essentially an upgraded drone. Very smart, and efficent. Below the fold is the company’s video of this demo test. The drilling capability is especially impressive.

Their website does not say how much they will charge for this rover, but they also note that it has 5 kilograms of cargo capacity, meaning that they can also offer this to customers.

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12 comments

  • Ken W.

    Perhaps I missed it, but I didn’t see any mention of the source of power. An RTG? (RTG = Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator)

  • Ken W. Great catch! I missed any mention of this as well. It certainly isn’t an RTG. The weight would be too much. This lack now makes me very suspicious of this company’s seriousness.

  • jburn

    Perhaps it uses rechargeable batteries, rather like those irobot vacuum cleaners. It could return to the landing base component for a recharge…

  • wodun

    The sides and top look like solar panels, whether or not they are good enough to charge a battery for extended periods who knows?

    Teleoperating from something like the Gateway is exactly what should be done before constructing long term lunar facilities. Transit to and supplying such a station is likely easier and cheaper than going that last leg to the lunar surface, at least for now.

    I’ve seen people say that Gateway is not intended for teleoperating but the truth of the matter is that what is done on it is an open question and simply expanding habitation, as is planned, allows for extended duration missions.

    Some people advocate just going to the lunar surface but just because we can do something doesn’t mean it is the wise decision to make. It is better to take small calculated risks that enable the greatest chance for success over the long term. Teleoperating robotic prospectors will give us very detailed information that can be used for site selection for human prospecting that can then be used for long term facilities placement.

    Starting off with human prospecting means a lot of infrastructure that might not be used again and must be duplicated many times for different sites.

  • Gealon

    I second or at this point looks like, third that suspicion. This rover looks more like someone’s final project prior to graduation than an actual piece of space-worthy hardware. First off, as Ken started the ball rolling on the power issue, I see no solar panel mountings, which during the two weeks of lunar day, is a power source you don’t simply want to ignore. Second, obviously it has no RTG, judging by the size of this little machine, the RTG would be about the same size. Since no obvious provision has been made for it, we can assume that the rover will be useless for the two weeks of lunar night.

    Addressing Wodun’s supposition that the body panels might be solar panels, I would have to respectfully disagree. Their own graphics indicate these to be carbon fiber panels for “Light weight and strength.” I think it’s more along the lines that carbon fiber is akin to a buzz word to tech companies right now and that it was included to attract attention and to provide some black and white contrast on their rolling box. Given the temperature extremes the vehicle would have to endure, I see no reason to mix construction materials with different thermal expansion characteristics, aluminum isn’t That expensive or heavy. I also do not see them replacing these carbon panels for solar arrays, unless they are to be mounted externally and have simply just been omitted for demonstration purposes. Even then we are still left with the flawed design of mixed materials and so far, no thermal insulation.

    Continuing with the power issue, it looks like this demonstration model is powered completely by an internal battery, rechargeable or otherwise. I see no provision for it to drag a tether so it is not likely to be powered by the lander on which it arrived, which presumably would be better equipped to generate long lasting power than this rather Spartan rover.

    Moving on briefly to control, we get only a momentary look inside the river and see what appears to be an off the shelf style board, flashing LED and several loose wires. Further the body panels are so thin that they cannot possibly provide sufficient insulation to keep these off the shelf electronics operating in the comfortable temperature range which they like. The entire package comes off as nothing close to flight worthy hardware and more akin to someone building a fancy looking box, shoving an arduino or stamp module inside and calling it a rover. Touching even more briefly on the mobility, the wheels look like they are made of plastic, not aluminum, come on guys, you aren’t even trying at this point.

    And now finally onto they drill mechanism. I had to seriously fight the urge to yell at the screen when I saw it and their unrealistic claim of a 5K payload with onboard instrumentation. Last I checked, the only mobile rock sample processing lab was on Mars and was the size of a Volkswagen. Color commentary aside, when we get out brief look inside, it is darkened and I could see no provision for this drilling mechanism, which by appearances, seems to deploy out of the bottom the other rover… right where the logic board is sitting. The drill bit it’s self appears to be nothing more than a standard concrete drill bit which usually are no more than six to eight inches in length. How this machine will acquire samples is beyond me with such a short bore length, especially considering it’s, what I estimate to be, ~3 inches of ground clearance. The inclusion of the tube in which the drill bit his housed, with the cutaway to show what appears to be an auger section of the bit is also misleading, as these types of drill bits function much like any other and use the auger to clear debris out of the hole they have just prepared. In this video however, the subtle inclusion of the cutaway on the tube would lead one to believe that this is some form of innovation specially designed for the rover’s sample collection system.

    Continuing with the issues of the drill mechanism and the size of the rover, one must ask, how do the engineers, and I use the term loosely, propose to prevent cross contamination of their samples? If they use only one drill, than they will be forced to analyze material that could possibly be from previous sites which has simply been caught up in the auger. They obviously do not have room in the already cramped machine to carry multiple drills or a mechanism to deposit individual samples into. Indeed, all we see is this drill bit, popping out of the bottom of the rover, out of view of any of the cameras we have seen I might add, and then rotating slowly.

    The actual motion of the drill being deployed is equally troubling. It did not appear to be the smooth, mechanical motion one would expect from a motor and gear drive. Instead the deployment stuttered and moved irregularly as if, instead of being deployed by an actual mechanism, it was being held by hand and puppeteered. The rapid zooms in and out work well to try to hide this fact, but the subtle wiggling of the drill as it slowly makes it’s way into the powdery soil is a dead giveaway as to the disingenuous nature of that segment of the video.

    Lastly I come to the 5K storage capacity of the rover. I ask first, with a tiny concrete drill bit and no illustrated ability to scoop material, how do the creators of this rolling box ever intend to amass so much material for testing? Further still, where do they intend to put it? With all that this machine can supposedly do, drive around without an external power supply, keep it’s fragile electronics warm without insulation, deploy a drill through it’s own logic board, analyze samples without any obvious provisions for instrumentation, where does it have the space to carry all of these samples? And why? Why carry so much? Are you intending to bring it somewhere? Back to the lander perhaps? I am sorry to venture right back to more colorful analysis, but this entire package reeks of a sham to me. This is as I have stated, nothing more than a rolling box that some hobbyists put together, made a trendy video about with lots of buzz words and flashy graphics and it is capable of nothing they promise… except maybe one thing. You will recall the repeated flashing graphic “Streaming” after they showcased their 4K camera. Well that probably is the only true thing about this machine, it can roll around and it can probably stream video. It is a toy and will make some children very happy when it shows up under the Christmas tree this year.

  • wayne

    Gealon
    Good stuff!
    (it’s a toy)

  • Gealon: Thank you for your detailed analysis. It for me clarifies my doubts about this rover.

    However, many of your engineering issues become less of a concern if this rover is designed to be used for only a very short time on the surface, doing one drilling. I can see a reasonable concept whereby you launch many of these things in one lander. They deploy to cover a network of locations, and are designed to operate for only one lunar day, each getting its own single sample and resource data. Such an approach might be cheaper, faster, and more efficient than sending one bigger and more expensive rover.

    Whether this rover can do this is a valid question. The concept however is clever and I think should be pursued.

  • Cotour

    I like the “rover”.

    While it does not look like it could handle much in the way of lunar material that might get in its way or process much of any samples that it might collect with its cute little 3″ L X 3/8″ non high speed masonry drill poking down into the powdery lunar regolith (What is supposed to drill with that drill in the powdery regolith?) out of its bottom.

    I suspect it may however be designed to stealthily sneak up on any alien ships resting on the lunar surface or secretly get some good photos and video of the structures that are rumored to be on the lunar surface where NASA can not control their dissemination. Could that be the true mission here?

  • Cotour

    Here is another example of “technology” that I do not necessarily understand the configuration of if not the actual function of. It does not seem a prudent design considering the potential for failure.

    https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/science/hoverbikes-are-finally-here-don-t-expect-fly-cheap-ncna935191

    This all changes when there is a gust of wind or a battery failure and the machine lists to one side, catches the ground or for some reason goes down and the rider is promptly blended into a chunky smoothie in front of the delicate public.

    Just because you can does not always mean that you should.

    Its coming.

  • Gealon

    I do agree that the prospect of a dozen or so simple rovers, swarming out from a lander to prospect an area is tantalizing, but if they are to be simple and cheap, they must also be limited in function. I would envision rovers of such a swarm being more akin to the Sojourner rover from 1997, with cameras and a single contact instrument. They could spend most of their time reaching their assigned points of interest away from the lander and they their remaining time poking rocks and outcroppings. What I don’t see them being able to do is drilling for core samples like this rover is pretending to do. They might have a drill to obtain samples from surface rocks, but not something capable of taking core samples.

    Would I like to see greater interest in exploring the moon and it’s resources? Absolutely.

    Is this the rover that will do it? I very much doubt it. At the risk of offending people’s eyes with a pun, the Lunar Outpost Resource Explorer has promised the Moon, I doubt it could deliver a boulder.

  • wayne

    Q:
    What is the deepest depth that we’ve actually ever drilled into the moon? (drilled, trenched, pounded in to, etc. probe or man)

    I seem to recall on one of the Apollo missions they succeeded in pushing (pounding/drilling?) a temperature probe a few (?) feet into the ‘dirt.’

    Just an amateur– this device is too small for whatever they are selling. ( Just sayin’.)

    On an infinitely brighter Note:
    This is inspiring–

    The Value of the Moon
    Dr. Paul Spudis
    https://youtu.be/cuhK9a8ipOQ
    52:51
    .

  • Edward

    Gealon, wrote: “I do agree that the prospect of a dozen or so simple rovers, swarming out from a lander to prospect an area is tantalizing, but if they are to be simple and cheap, they must also be limited in function.

    The article says: “Groups of Lunar Outpost Prospectors will map the surface and subsurface resources of the Moon

    The lightweight nature and small size suggests that these are intended to be limited in function and that the value is in having groups of them doing exploration. The main purpose seems to be limited, too:

    The Lunar Outpost Prospectors are focused on providing exploration data for In-Situ Resource Utilization” for “future [manned?] space missions.”

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