Autonomous Robot Teams for Lunar Mining Base Construction and Operation

Jekan Thangavelautham, Aman Chandra, Erik Jensen

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

There is growing interest in expanding beyond space exploration and pursuing the dream of living and working in space. The next critical step towards living and working in space requires kick-starting a space economy. One important challenge with this space-economy is ensuring the ready supply and low-cost availability of raw materials. The escape delta-v of 11.2 km/s from Earth makes transportation of materials from Earth very costly. Transporting materials from the Moon takes 2.4 km/s and from Mars 5.0 km/s. Based on these factors, the Moon and Mars can become colonies to export material into this space economy. One critical question is what are the resources required to sustain a space economy? Water has been identified as a critical resource both to sustain human-life but also for use in propulsion, attitude-control, power, thermal storage and radiation protection systems. Water may be obtained off-world through In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) in the course of human or robotic space exploration. The Moon is also rich in iron, titanium and silicon. Based upon these important findings, we plan on developing an energy model to determine the feasibility of developing a mining base on the Moon. This mining base mines and principally exports water, titanium and steel. The moon has been selected, as there are significant reserves of water known to exists at the permanently shadowed crater regions and there are significant sources of titanium and iron throughout the Moon's surface. Our designs for a mining base utilize renewable energy sources namely photovoltaics and solar-thermal concentrators to provide power to construct the base, keep it operational and export water and other resources using a Mass Driver. However, the site where large quantities of water are present lack sunlight and hence the water needs to be transported using rail from the southern region to base located at mid latitude. Using the energy model developed, we will determine the energy per Earth-day to export 100 tons each of water, titanium and low-grade steel into Lunar escape velocity and to the Earth-Moon Lagrange points. Our study of water and metal mining on the Moon found the key to keeping the mining base efficient is to make it robotic. Teams of robots (consisting of 300 infrastructure robots) would be used to construct the entire base using locally available resources and fully operate the base. This would decrease energy needs by 15-folds. Furthermore, the base can be built 15-times faster using robotics and 3D printing. This shows that automation and robotics is the key to making such a base technologically feasible. The Moon is a lot closer to Earth than Mars and the prospect of having a greater impact on the space economy cannot be stressed. Our study intends to determine the cost-benefit analysis of lunar resource mining.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication2020 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2020
PublisherIEEE Computer Society
ISBN (Electronic)9781728127347
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2020
Event2020 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2020 - Big Sky, United States
Duration: Mar 7 2020Mar 14 2020

Publication series

NameIEEE Aerospace Conference Proceedings
ISSN (Print)1095-323X

Conference

Conference2020 IEEE Aerospace Conference, AERO 2020
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityBig Sky
Period3/7/203/14/20

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Space and Planetary Science

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