NASA is holding the Lunabotics Mining Competition at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex this week.
The Lunabotics Mining Competition is a university-level competition designed to engage and retain students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). There is particular relevance to NASA’s recently announced mission to find an asteroid by 2016 and then bring it to Cis-Lunar space, the technology concepts developed by the university teams for this competition conceivably could be used to mine resources on Asteroids as well as Mars. Robotic miners, just like these, will allow us to take samples at the returned Asteroid and give us valuable information to prepare for other deep space missions.
The challenge is for students to design and build a remote controlled or autonomous excavator that can collect and deposit a minimum of 10 kilograms of regolith simulant (aggregate) within 10 minutes. Regolith exists not only on Earth’s moon, but also on most planetary bodies such as Asteroids, Moons of Mars and Mars itself.
The complexities of the challenge include the abrasive characteristics of the simulant, the weight and size limitations of the robot, and the ability to control it from a remote control center. The scoring for the mining category will require teams to consider a number of design operation factors such as dust tolerance and projection, communications, vehicle mass, energy/power required, and full autonomy.
Here is a video in which the camera for the first half wanders around the event hall showing the student teams preparing their lunar mining robots for the contest. The second half shows the robots in the lunar simulant arena:
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