Author Topic: Would an robotic rover be a good first step for a manned return to the moon?  (Read 7726 times)

Offline Don2

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Priorities at NASA seem to be shifting back towards landing men on the moon. One of the key selling points for the moon is the prospect of mining ice and producing rocket fuel. However, we really know very little about these lunar water resources. Before any serious engineering of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) can take place, we need to sample return some of this lunar water to earth. And before a sample return is done, we need to find out exactly where the water is.

The current evidence for lunar water is quite vague. Perhaps it is water bound into the crystal structure of minerals. Maybe it is icy soil. Maybe there is a sheet of ice under a thin layer of soil, similar to what Phoenix found on Mars. We don't know. We don't know if the deposits are patchy or continuous, nor do we know how deep you have to dig to get to the ice layer. We don't have the information needed for any sensible discussion of ISRU right now.

Answering all these questions is best done with a small rover. Hunting for sub-surface ice is going to be time consuming, and is far better done with a robotic rover than a manned expedition. The best tool for the job would be a ground penetrating radar similar to the RIMFAX instrument on Mars 2020. This can detect ice up to 10m deep. An alternative would be a neutron spectrometer. If potential ice is detected, you want to confirm that it really is ice. For digging 10cm, you can just spin the rover wheel in place. For up to 1m, you need a drill such as has been proposed for Resource Prospector. A hammer mole similar to the one on Insight is a possibility for going up to 3m deep.

Once a sample has been collected, you need to bake it in a oven and send the evolved gas to a mass spectrometer. This allows you to confirm that water is present and to detect other volatile compounds.

The goals for the mission should be these:
1/ Confirm that water is present on the landing site and discover what form it is in.
2/ Make a map of the site which could tell future astronauts where to dig for ice and where the interesting rocks are.
3/ Attempt to discover a potential base site. A base site needs near continuous sunlight and accessible ice nearby. It also needs continuous direct to earth communications and a safe landing area.
4/ Demonstrate the productivity improvements made possible by teleoperation of a rover with little communications delay. People have proposed sending men to mars orbit to teleoperate rovers on the Martian surface, but the claimed productivity improvements have not been demonstrated.
5/Measure the radiation environment in a region where a future base might be built.
6/ Gather science data to provide clues about the source of the lunar water. In particular, measure isotope ratios and compare those to water from earth and comets.
7/ Measure the composition of the local rocks with instruments like an IR spectrometer, an APXS and a microscopic imager. This should allow the identification of hydrous minerals.

If the rover is solar powered, the cost will probably be a little over $1bn. It would be intermediate in size between MER and MSL. A nuclear powered rover would have great advantages because it could enter permanently shadowed craters which are cold enough for ices other than water to be present. However, it probably wouldn't be much cheaper than MSL, so the cost would probably run about $2bn.  The manned program should pay the price because lunar water is not a top science priority but it is a vital topic for any manned lunar base.

If a suitable base site is found, then a future manned landing could dig up the ice for sample return to earth. The astronauts could also test prototypes of mining equipment. This would avoid the manned landing simply being a repeat of the Apollo landings of the 1960s. Having a map of the site would make the astronauts far more productive and would ensure that they didn't miss any interesting samples. An unmanned mission could also return an ice sample, but returning 100kg of samples like Apollo did would definitely be a selling point in favor of a manned mission.

Flying several identical rovers would develop a set of potential landing sites for future manned landings and possible bases.

Lunar resource prospector proposal : https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20160005014.pdf


Offline savuporo

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Offline AegeanBlue

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Well, there is a thread on Resource Prospector at the Lunar HSF section. It will far, far less than $1 bn, closer to a few hundred. It has been under development for years, scraping by whatever its PI would find: Money and students from the education projects, use of a brand new control center when it needed a simulated mission for testing and today the US Taiwan cooperation treaty which is what currently pays for most of its work. Still it has yet to enter Phase B because it has never had an approved new start, it does not have a lander, only the rover and it has the bad habit of falling in the cracks between SMD and HEOMD since it does quite fit in either. SMD has a lunar sample return mission in the New Frontiers category and there is one proposal in NF4. There were lunar proposals in the last Doscovery round. However it is not high in the decadal survey for surveys. If HEOMD wants a lunar rover, likely they will have to pay for it. In any case we might just see a rover go to the Moon with GLXP soon. Then again with GXLP, nothing is certain until it reaches the launchpad.

Offline vjkane

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Well, there is a thread on Resource Prospector at the Lunar HSF section. It will far, far less than $1 bn, closer to a few hundred. It has been under development for years, scraping by whatever its PI would find: Money and students from the education projects, use of a brand new control center when it needed a simulated mission for testing and today the US Taiwan cooperation treaty which is what currently pays for most of its work. Still it has yet to enter Phase B because it has never had an approved new start, it does not have a lander, only the rover and it has the bad habit of falling in the cracks between SMD and HEOMD since it does quite fit in either. SMD has a lunar sample return mission in the New Frontiers category and there is one proposal in NF4. There were lunar proposals in the last Doscovery round. However it is not high in the decadal survey for surveys. If HEOMD wants a lunar rover, likely they will have to pay for it. In any case we might just see a rover go to the Moon with GLXP soon. Then again with GXLP, nothing is certain until it reaches the launchpad.
Thanks for this.  I've wondered how real the funding has been.

Offline Blackstar

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Well, there is a thread on Resource Prospector at the Lunar HSF section. It will far, far less than $1 bn, closer to a few hundred. It has been under development for years, scraping by whatever its PI would find: Money and students from the education projects, use of a brand new control center when it needed a simulated mission for testing and today the US Taiwan cooperation treaty which is what currently pays for most of its work. Still it has yet to enter Phase B because it has never had an approved new start, it does not have a lander, only the rover and it has the bad habit of falling in the cracks between SMD and HEOMD since it does quite fit in either. SMD has a lunar sample return mission in the New Frontiers category and there is one proposal in NF4. There were lunar proposals in the last Doscovery round. However it is not high in the decadal survey for surveys. If HEOMD wants a lunar rover, likely they will have to pay for it. In any case we might just see a rover go to the Moon with GLXP soon. Then again with GXLP, nothing is certain until it reaches the launchpad.

There are some misstatements here. But Prospector has always been a tough thing to understand. The foreign involvement has always been wishful thinking and I've seen people associated with Prospector try to explain it and everybody in the room ends up puzzled.

If you go looking in the LEAG website past meetings, you should be able to find a bunch of Prospector presentations.

The thing to understand is that it was a leftover from the lunar program established as part of the Vision for Space Exploration in 2004. It existed on paper, but HEOMD never had a reason to fund it, and it was never an SMD project or interest. SMD's priorities are based upon science goals, and the science interest in the Moon is not really the same as the goals for Prospector.

In fact, I know a lunar expert involved in another lunar program who explained that Prospector was sort of an inside-out program. I don't remember the specifics, but apparently they did instrument selection too early, and that sort of tied them to a set of instruments that may not be ideal for what they actually want to do. (I think that the reason for this was that they had money for instrument development but not for anything else, so they proceeded with that, rather than bringing the rest of the project up to a maturity level. Think of it like getting a great deal on a set of windows for a house, and then telling an architect to design the house around the windows. You could end up with a funny-looking house.)

There have been some interesting and unreported aspects of lunar exploration that resulted from the Obama administration's cancellation of the Constellation program. Back in 2010, when people took presidential statements seriously, Obama said that we'd been there/done that for the Moon. One of the effects of this was that it killed a lot of support within the scientific community for doing lunar missions. The reason is that scientists have to take their proposals to managers first, and those managers--who may not be scientists themselves--are always trying to read the political tea leaves. They believed that lunar missions were no longer in favor, and so they nixed the proposals. That is one of the reasons why there were so few lunar proposals in the last Discovery round: the proposals were rejected by centers and never got any funding, so they could not be submitted for Discovery. (I heard this directly from some people who said that lunar proposals were rejected by a center for this very reason.)

A similar chill probably happened to Prospector. It was never going to get funded, so anybody with real management and design skills didn't want anything to do with it even if there was some walking around money.

I'm not fully up on Prospector, but my hunch is that it is probably not a good starting point anymore. Remember that Prospector was started many years ago, and we've learned a lot more about the Moon since then. Also remember that there is other stuff in the works, like Lunar Flashlight, that could provide useful input for such a mission. Maybe you would change the instrument suite on a rover based upon data that you expect to capture with Lunar Flashlight?

The smart thing to do would be to go back to the drawing board and start with a team that identified all the new data that has been collected about lunar volatiles in the past 5-6 years, factor in other programmatic developments (like Lunar Flashlight), and then design a mission from the ground up based upon requirements developed with HEOMD's input. You might end up with something that looks like Prospector, or you might end up with something else entirely.

Offline TrevorMonty

The Resource Prospector is trying to fit alot things into one mission. This is understandable when most NASA robotic missions start at $500m and go up from there. With access to lower cost XPrize landers and rovers they can start with bare minimum sensors and fit them to lowest cost lander or rover mission. Being so close revisit rates between missions can be months apart not years like Mars and other planets.



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Offline Don2

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@AegeanBlue... Thanks, I missed the RP thread at the Lunar HSF section. One issue you brought up in another thread was how the Resource Prospector (RP) proposal would interact with the Moonrise sample return proposal in the current New Frontiers round. I think they have different goals. Moonrise needs to go to the South Pole Aitken Basin for the science mission, and that is mostly out of sight of the earth. I think the proposal includes a communications satellite relay of some kind.  Resource Prospector should be sent to a region suitable for a manned landing, which is probably going to require continuous line of sight communications to the earth. Also, making oxygen and rocket fuel requires both water and electricity, so Resource Prospector should target the areas of the pole with near permanent sunlight.

If Moonrise is very lucky, it might scrape away the top layer of soil and run into a hard layer of ice the way the Phoenix lander did at Mars. More likely, some of the materials returned might contain some hydrated minerals, and maybe a small amount of lunar water could be baked out of that and analyzed. However, Moonrise won't find anything if the ice is patchy or deeper than 30cm. The bottom line is that Moonrise has different goals and is complementary to RP rather than competitive.

This is the most recent presentation I can find on Moonrise:
https://www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/leag2015/presentations/Thursday/Jollif.pdf

A couple of abstracts on Resource Prospector from the 2017 LEAG meeting:
https://www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/leag2017/pdf/5076.pdf
https://www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/leag2017/pdf/5025.pdf

Offline Don2

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I think that Resource Prospector looks like a reasonable design for a minimum cost mission. A much longer lifetime would be nice because it would make it possible to cover a lot more ground. The Chinese built a solar powered rover which lasted through several lunar nights, so it is possible. The more ground you can cover, the more likely you are to find a really nice base site where ice mining and oxygen production is easy and cheap.

The other thing that would be really nice to have is a ground penetrating radar. That allows you to see down 10m, rather than the 1m achievable with a neutron spectrometer. 10m is probably within drilling range for a manned mission or a base. If you are thinking about mining, you want the ice deposit to be large enough for a sustained operation.

All that will cost more money, so it really depends how much money might be available. If the Administration wants to head for the moon rather than Mars, they need to do more than make a speech. They need to fund something that brings a manned lunar landing closer. Funding something like Resource Prospector is the cheapest thing they could get away with, but there is a lot more that ought to be done if they really want to make the moon the future target for manned exploration.

Offline Blackstar

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With access to lower cost XPrize landers and rovers they can start with bare minimum sensors and fit them to lowest cost lander or rover mission. Being so close revisit rates between missions can be months apart not years like Mars and other planets.

And if my grandmother had wheels she'd be a wagon...

1-None of these things have proven themselves yet, and we've been waiting a very long time.

2-Even if one or two of them proves themselves, what kind of lifetime and reliability will they have? None of the GLXP goals includes lifetime and reliability. Low cost is useless if the spacecraft only lasts a short time. You don't want to spend a few hundred million dollars for a few days of operations.



Offline Phil Stooke

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"The thing to understand is that [Resource Prospector] was a leftover from the lunar program established as part of the Vision for Space Exploration in 2004. It existed on paper, but HEOMD never had a reason to fund it"


Now, of course, it looks like they will have a reason to fund it.  Most of the studies over the last few years have been looking at planning access to volatiles in a landscape of very rapidly changing illumination, and they will almost certainly remain useful for any surface prospecting mission.  Making final decisions about instruments only after the forthcoming fleet of smallsat missions makes a lot of sense, as you say.

Offline UltraViolet9

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what kind of lifetime and reliability will they have? None of the GLXP goals includes lifetime and reliability. Low cost is useless if the spacecraft only lasts a short time. You don't want to spend a few hundred million dollars for a few days of operations.

GLXP is about creating a basic capability to get to the surface of the Moon and maybe scoot or hop around a bit.  It's not about months and years of surface operations like the MEP.

If you wanted long-term operations using a GLXP lander, you put those resources into a rover or payload that can operate independently of the lander once it's down.

Offline savuporo

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what kind of lifetime and reliability will they have? None of the GLXP goals includes lifetime and reliability. Low cost is useless if the spacecraft only lasts a short time. You don't want to spend a few hundred million dollars for a few days of operations.

GLXP is about creating a basic capability to get to the surface of the Moon and maybe scoot or hop around a bit. ..

At first blush, it might seem like it, but that actually hasn't ended up being the case at all. Due to severe constraints on the respective teams funding resources, experience and technology base, plus launch weight and size, whatever has been shown has mostly been really a set of kludges hard optimized to just solve that particular GLXP challenge, rather than a general purpose system.

NASA has a lunar pallet lander concept which is much closer to a generic, "fly anything as a payload" capability

https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20150016539.pdf

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Offline Coastal Ron

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Priorities at NASA seem to be shifting back towards landing men on the moon.

Presidential interest in something does not always equal Congressional interest the same thing. We need to remember that.

Quote
One of the key selling points for the moon is the prospect of mining ice and producing rocket fuel.

Be careful in listening to the priorities of those that are truly pushing for it, compared to those of us just expressing an opinion (like all of us on NSF). For instance, this is what Pence said that the NSC meeting:

Quote
“We will return American astronauts to the moon, not only to leave behind footprints and flags, but to build the foundation we need to send Americans to Mars and beyond,” he said. “The moon will be a stepping-stone, a training ground, a venue to strengthen our commercial and international partnerships as we refocus America’s space program toward human space exploration.”

Though mineral extraction and propellant manufacturing MIGHT be part of what Pence alluded to, it is not what he said specifically. Which means it apparently is NOT a priority compared to the goal of just getting to the Moon's surface.

So from that standpoint, I don't think surface rovers would be an initial priority, because they will want to focus all monies on getting humans to the surface, not robotic systems.

My $0.02
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Offline Hauerg

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no.
would take 20 years.
so tired.

Offline UltraViolet9

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whatever has been shown has mostly been really a set of kludges hard optimized to just solve that particular GLXP challenge, rather than a general purpose system.

This does a disservice to competitors like Moon Express, who are clearly working in modular, scalable terms to address a range of payloads.

Quote
NASA has a lunar pallet lander concept which is much closer to a generic, "fly anything as a payload" capability

We should not equate papers, from NASA or anywhere else, with hardware development efforts, payload agreements, and launch reservations.

« Last Edit: 10/13/2017 07:25 PM by UltraViolet9 »

Offline AegeanBlue

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You are welcome for all the thank yous. I became aware of RP from the Lunar HSF thread, I have been following and different presentations over the years and that is what has formed my knowledge. I am fully aware that several posters here have far better inside knowledge of NASA and thank you for correcting me and giving me your insight. If you see the Google presentation the PI is basically saying (as much as I understand him) that we are moving forward with what we can scrape and are basically waiting for another mission to the Moon in order to have a ride. That they would be cooperating with Taiwan to move the mission forward led to several articles on the web a couple of years ago, but then again there have not been any news since that release. My understanding was that it would become something like COSMIC-2. I am hoping that the LEAG presentation go up so that I can see if in the last year or so there was any actual movement on RP. Now watching the 20 year anniversary of Mars Pathfinder the feeling I also got was that they were trying to pull a Sojourner: Originally Sojourner was not a related mission to MESUR Pathfinder, but when MESUR Pathfinder was approved they managed to add the mini rover as an add on. My Aitken mission comment had the sense that if that gets selected at NF4, perhaps it can tag along in a similar way. Also my understanding is that the principal instrument for RP is OVEN which is quite original, and is not that likely to become obsolete.

Honestly I am in favor all missions, but until I see them in the launchpad, I am a bit reserved

Offline Blackstar

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So here's what is going on:

That "return humans to the Moon" goal that was announced last week has been known at NASA HQ for a little longer (probably a few weeks, but not months), but it was pretty tightly held. NASA has now been given 45 days to come up with a "plan," although what exactly that means is unclear. Does this plan simply have to be how the agency could/would get to a first human landing? Or does it have to be more extensive, like outlining how they would build up to permanent human presence on the Moon? I dunno. I'd like to see the written orders to NASA.

Depending upon what NASA comes up with for their human requirements, they would then ask what is needed in terms of precursor missions. Do they even need any? If all they are going to do is figure out a way to do a first (new) human landing on the Moon, they don't really need any more data. They've got plenty of data to make a landing. However, if the goal is to set up a more permanent presence, or to do a series of missions to the Moon, they might need precursor missions. They also might want some things like a communications relay network, so one or two satellites that could provide relay from the lunar far side.

Put simply: Resource Prospector might not be needed at all. Or they might decide upon something else, like a couple of orbiters. Or they may want a rover, but with different capabilities and goals.

If you go back to how NASA responded to the Vision for Space Exploration, there were a number of initial steps that they identified. When the VSE was drafted (prior to its announcement) the people in the Bush White House who drafted it asked some knowledgeable people at JSC a simple question: "If you were told to send humans back to the Moon, what is the first thing you want to do? What do you need?" The answer they got back was "Higher resolution photos of potential landing sites." That led to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and if you look at the original VSE white paper, it points to what became LRO.

There was a lot of stuff that NASA did in the background responding to the VSE that was quite smart and which showed an evolution in their thinking. I'm guessing that most people have forgotten about all that. Hopefully, people at JSC are pulling out their old computer files and stuff like that and looking at what they did. Unfortunately, JSC killed their history program, so it's unlikely that there was any kind of formal effort to save that work.


Offline savuporo

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NASA has now been given 45 days to come up with a "plan," although what exactly that means is unclear. ..

There was a lot of stuff that NASA did in the background responding to the VSE that was quite smart and which showed an evolution in their thinking. I'm guessing that most people have forgotten about all that. Hopefully, people at JSC are pulling out their old computer files and stuff like that and looking at what they did. Unfortunately, JSC killed their history program, so it's unlikely that there was any kind of formal effort to save that work.

Dusting off pre-ESAS VSE plans and picking up from where things got left off before Griffin came in, would give them a plan. In less than 45 days, and not a bad plan. Ahead of time and under budget.
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Offline UltraViolet9

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If you go back to how NASA responded to the Vision for Space Exploration, there were a number of initial steps that they identified. When the VSE was drafted (prior to its announcement) the people in the Bush White House who drafted it asked some knowledgeable people at JSC a simple question: "If you were told to send humans back to the Moon, what is the first thing you want to do? What do you need?"

Not to derail the thread, but as one of a just a handful of civil servants involved in drafting the VSE, I wanted to set the record straight on a couple things.

The budget options, programmatics behind those options, and drafting of the VSE were largely performed by a few former OMB staff that O'Keefe bought over from his time there.  A Pentagon budget estimator was detailed to HQ and a couple technologists/scientists from human space flight and SMD were involved.  But JSC was not consulted, and the various WH office staff at the time did not perform the day-to-day, hands-on formulation of the VSE, although they certainly provided inputs and review.

Quote
The answer they got back was "Higher resolution photos of potential landing sites." That led to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and if you look at the original VSE white paper, it points to what became LRO."

With so few personnel involved, there was no detailed lunar precursor plan at the time the VSE was released.  The folks involved assumed that such a series of missions would be needed, laid in a budget line, and identified a focus on resources for the first orbiter and TBD testbeds for the first lander.  But the specific definition of those missions and their requirements (high-resolution landing pix) was left to Steidle's ESMD team.  And ESMD's work is where's LRO's origin really lies.

FWIW... back to your original programming.
« Last Edit: 10/14/2017 01:22 AM by UltraViolet9 »

Offline Blackstar

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Yep, I stand corrected. I went back to the VSE policy document and found this from February 2004:

https://www.nasa.gov/pdf/55583main_vision_space_exploration2.pdf

NASA will  begin  its  lunar  testbed  program  with  a
series  of  robotic  missions.   The  first,  an  orbiter  to
confirm  and  map  lunar  resources  in  detail,  will
launch  in  2008.    A  robotic  landing  will  follow 
in 2009 to begin demonstrating capabilities for sus-
tainable exploration of the solar system.  Additional
missions, potentially up to one a year, are planned to
demonstrate  new  capabilities  such  as  robotic  net-
works,  reusable  planetary  landing  and  launch  sys-
tems,   pre-positioned   propellants,   and   resource
extraction.

I could not quickly find the White House "fact sheet" that was released at the time of Bush's January 2004 speech, but Bush's speech contains the relevant language:

https://history.nasa.gov/Bush%20SEP.htm

"Beginning no later than 2008, we will send a series of robotic missions to the lunar surface to research and prepare for future human exploration."

I vaguely remember that the "fact sheet" was a little more specific than that, but it probably listed the orbiter first and the lander second, without stating the specific orbiter mission. However, the LRO requirements were established fairly quickly, because LRO underwent PDR by February 2006.

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