Author Topic: Would an robotic rover be a good first step for a manned return to the moon?  (Read 7724 times)

Offline Don2

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Having read over the budget, it seems NASA wants to go in a slightly different direction from what I expected.

It looks like they want to subsidize a commercial lunar lander industry, and for space science to build a series of payloads for the landers to carry. That goal isn't a good fit for an ice finding rover, but it would be an excellent fit for a lunar geophysical network. The last decadal survey proposed 4 stations for about $800million, so the funding seems to be there for that. The science instruments are rather cheap, and most of the budget was for launch and landing. If commercial brings down the costs, then maybe you could do the geophysical network for less than $800 million.

You could launch one geophysical station a year on a commercial lander and over time build a geophysical network and develop a lunar landing capability. Having one year between flights gives the engineers time to improve their lander and hopefully drive the production costs down over time. I think that could work out. The lunar geophysical network is Decadal Survey Approved so it is a reasonable use of science funding.

Offline Coastal Ron

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Robotic explorers cost far less than humans, and can do a lot of risk reduction before humans are sent. So yes, they should be included in any formal program to land humans on our Moon or any other place.
If we don't continuously lower the cost to access space, how are we ever going to afford to expand humanity out into space?

Online speedevil

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Robotic explorers cost far less than humans, and can do a lot of risk reduction before humans are sent. So yes, they should be included in any formal program to land humans on our Moon or any other place.

Unless, of course, BFR/S actually works.
In 2021, there could be a couple of dozen humans on the moon, for the cost of several loads of methane.
At that point - you've got to ridiculously reduce the cost of rovers, or you may as well just use tesla trucks,, with swapped-out wheels, some MLI, transpirative cooling, and ditch them every month when they explode.

Offline Bob Shaw

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Unmanned - or man tended - rovers would be a good thing. They'd test technologies, do science, and be inspirational.

Offline Coastal Ron

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Robotic explorers cost far less than humans, and can do a lot of risk reduction before humans are sent. So yes, they should be included in any formal program to land humans on our Moon or any other place.

Unless, of course, BFR/S actually works.
In 2021, there could be a couple of dozen humans on the moon, for the cost of several loads of methane.
At that point - you've got to ridiculously reduce the cost of rovers, or you may as well just use tesla trucks,, with swapped-out wheels, some MLI, transpirative cooling, and ditch them every month when they explode.

Space is a harsh environment, and on a daily basis it's unlikely that humans will be going outside for more than a few hours. Robotic systems can keep going for as long as there is power, and they take less power than humans when they are doing excursions.

Think of robotic systems as extensions of humans, and you'll see that the more robotic systems we deploy at the places humans are at (or planning to go), the more efficient humans will be while there.

So robotic systems sent to the Moon in advance of humans could not only do some of the preparation for human arrival, but also start on some of the scientific prospecting so that humans know what to expect.

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

Online speedevil

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Space is a harsh environment, and on a daily basis it's unlikely that humans will be going outside for more than a few hours. Robotic systems can keep going for as long as there is power, and they take less power than humans when they are doing excursions.

Think of robotic systems as extensions of humans, and you'll see that the more robotic systems we deploy at the places humans are at (or planning to go), the more efficient humans will be while there.

So robotic systems sent to the Moon in advance of humans could not only do some of the preparation for human arrival, but also start on some of the scientific prospecting so that humans know what to expect.

The above is probably true, if we assume astronauts are somewhere in the 2030s, launched by SLS.

If they're in the early 2020s, lunar exploration seems much more likely to be less a 'formal program' than ad-hoc tests of BFS capability, with incidental lunar exploration.

A lot of the vague plans seem to have the risk of being curiosity clones, with curiosity like budgets, and curiosity like program speeds.

When a more sensible plan to me seems to be very cheap copies of the LRV, teleoperated from earth using advanced teleoperation.

In order to plan and care about a return to the moon, it's got to be a meaningful return to the moon.
I don't see a route for a meaningful return without first predicating cheap launch, which means cheap rovers are needed.
Curiosity is great - but we need rovers which are willing to fail a lot more.

Offline Archibald

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And Google Lunar XPrize is now officially dead. As dead as circumlunar Dragon on Falcon Heavy. Wait for another decade and maybe - maybe - will the private sector be able to fund... and eventually land, something on the lunar surface.
... that ackward moment when you realize that Jeff Bezos personal fortune is far above NASA annual budget... 115 billion to 18 billion...

Offline TrevorMonty

And Google Lunar XPrize is now officially dead. As dead as circumlunar Dragon on Falcon Heavy. Wait for another decade and maybe - maybe - will the private sector be able to fund... and eventually land, something on the lunar surface.
The business case for surviving Xprize companies isn't prize, never has been.
A few of survivors have commercial missions planned for in next year or two. This is without NASA and ESA buying missions.

Offline Don2

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The question of how robots and astronauts work best together is one to think about. Anything time consuming and slow is best done by a robot. The initial site survey and mapping could take years. Where astronauts have a relative advantage is for sample collection and return. Some of the Apollo flights returned 100kg of samples. This compares favorably with the robotic Moonrise mission, which proposes to return 1kg of sample at the cost of $1 billion. If the astronauts had a site map prepared by a robot, they could quickly sample all the most interesting spots.

The advantages of teleoperation of rovers is another thing to explore with a future rover. All sorts of claims of enhanced productivity have been made if the communications delays associated with Mars operation are eliminated, but nothing has been proved.

The question of rover cost is a good one. An Opportunity or Yutu style solar powered rover masses less than 200kg, so a small science lander would be enough to put it on the surface. The problem is the cost of building the rover. Spirit and Opportunity cost $1.030 billion in 2018$. Science rovers are a lot more expensive than seismic stations!. Of course that includes the cost of the EDL system which is complex for Mars. The nuclear powered rover needed to go into the shadowed lunar craters is estimated to cost more than $1 billion. That may be worth it. The shadowed craters are cold enough to trap a wide range of volatiles, and might contain a source of carbon and nitrogen which would be useful for making storable rocket fuels.

While on the subject of costs, I think it would be interesting to see what SpaceX could do with lander costs. They regularly land 25 ton rocket stages in earth gravity. Surely that is harder than landing anything on the moon? Perhaps they could start with a small science lander and build up from there.


Online speedevil

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All sorts of claims of enhanced productivity have been made if the communications delays associated with Mars operation are eliminated, but nothing has been proved.
I beg to differ.
Lunokhod 2 had 'video' at 3.2 seconds per frame and a driving speed of around 1mph, and managed 40km in four months.

100m/day - while constrained by day, and presumably line of sight to some soviet site.

Opportunity and Curiosity did about a tenth of this. (while not constrained by earth rotation)

This is with comms that at best I can understand amounts to 21s/frame for high resolution planning, and 3.2s/frame while driving.

For any plausible rover design today, there would be essentially live video, and most of the driving could be very, very easy in comparison to what lunakhod did, even retaining its 'high speed' of 2km/h

A relay satellite over next to DSCOVR means you can drive (or operate) most of the time the sun is up, and get even at 2km/h for the easy bits, thousands of kilometers in a six month mission.

Teleoperation with lunar delays is very, very easy at 2km/h, for simple 'drive there, put that instrument there' type tasks.
It's lots harder if you want to juggle.
« Last Edit: 02/25/2018 06:07 PM by speedevil »

Offline Don2

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@speedevil    I'd forgotten about Lunokhod 2. That is evidence of teleoperation being a lot more productive. However the moon is less rugged than Mars, and Lunokhod 2 had fewer science instruments than the US Mars rovers so it spent less time examining rocks. So other factors would explain some of the difference in speed.

At 10km / month the rover would cover a huge amount of territory over time.

There appear to be 2 pots of money in the budget which could be used for lunar surface science. Under 'Exploration Systems' there is new money for 'Advanced Cislunar and Surface capabilities' which is $116.5 for 2019 rising to $163.7 for 2021. The budget says, 'Working in parallel with scientific lunar exploration... NASA is planning to develop a series of progressively greater robotic lunar missions to the surface of the moon...establishing initial commercial contracts for transportation services with a maximum payload range likely up to 200 kg, developing small rovers to be delivered via commercial landers,'

The second pot of money is in the science division, and it is $218 million for 2019 and staying at that level going forward. The budget says: ' the Lunar Discovery and Exploration Program will develop lunar surface payloads (and supporting orbital payloads), along with cost-effective ways to deliver and provide services for these payloads.'

It looks to me like the money in the Exploration program is for buying a commercial lunar lander, and the science money is for developing payloads and rovers. I'm not quite sure what they have in mind here. There looks to be enough money for 2 Opportunity class solar science rovers every 3 years, or maybe for a new seismic station every year with occasional rover flights.

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