NASA selects five independent innovators to improve its Moon Digging Robot

Research is ongoing at NASA on how to deal with some of the problems that can be faced in missions that aim to work on the surface of the Moon, and maybe in the future on Mars. When implementing NASA’s Artemis program (a manned mission to the Moon in 2024), astronauts will need the help of robots to explore and work on the lunar surface. This includes the capabilities to dig up resources in the lunar soil or regolith.

To this end, the space agency developed the Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot (RASSOR). The robot specially designed to perform digging work in lunar soil, using movable rotating hollow cylinders or bucket drums. As RASSOR digs, the bucket drums fill with regolith, which the robot will then take to a different location and empty its bucket drums.

Nasa launched the RASSOR Bucket Drum Design Challenge in March for the general public around the world. The goal was to find new designs capable of filling more than half of the bucket drum’s volume with regolith while maintaining size and weight requirements. The contestants presented their original vision of the technology of capturing lunar regolith with minimal effort, which is very important for the long-term operation of such devices on the Moon.

Regolith Trap, by Caleb Clausing, was the first place selection in the RASSOR Bucket Drum Challenge.
Regolith Trap, by Caleb Clausing, was the first place selection in the RASSOR Bucket Drum Challenge.

In the end, it has chosen the five winners of a challenge. Caleb Clausing was the first winner of the RASSOR Bucket Drum Challenge, with the team receiving $3,000. The bucket drum designed by an industrial designer uses a passive door to hold large amounts of regolith. What’s more important is, the device is very resistant to the penetration of moon dust, which is a serious problem for technology.

In addition to this project, another four were selected, which aim to improve the robot’s task. Monetary prizes range from $2,000 to $250, with winners from the United States, Canada, Austria, and Romania. The second-place winner’s design has a very simple, but promising sectioned baffle system that should be very effective at capturing regolith.

Now a long process of testing will begin before this type of machinery is sent to the Moon. As in all space missions, in addition to testing the feasibility and the real possibilities of its use, then its use must be adjusted to a specific mission.

In a statement, NASA’s Schuler said this was a very successful challenge. “We’re excited to evaluate and test these concepts further as we continue to develop and mature RASSOR.”