TUCSON, Ariz. — The idea of space mining is growing popular. Engineers at the University of Arizona are mapping out a plan to harvest the moon's resources. They’ll do so with a new excavation technique using autonomous robot swarms to mine lunar resources. The research team received a $500,000 two-year grant from NASA to advance space mining methods.
“This is a really super exciting grant that is letting us really work in this domain of excavation, site preparation, and resource mining,” said Jekan Thanga, an associate professor for aerospace and mechanical engineering.
Thanga developed a system called HEART to help with their research. It is an autonomous robotic system that will train robots to work together and improve over time.
“It is also a system that cooperates with humans. So the humans work together with the system to identify new scenarios, identify with unknown scenarios, and then work together to sort of figure out a suitable solution,” said Thanga.
A solution, for example, such as mining core from the moon.
“To break this rock it takes enough power to light a 100 watt light bulb for about an hour. So if we're going to do the same thing on the moon, we’re going to need more efficient processes,” said Moe Momayez, the interim department head of mining and geological engineering.
To mine and drill on the moon, Momayez developed a process that can drill through rock five times faster than any other method.
“So water being a scarce commodity on the moon, we may have to modify our technique to use very little water or no water at all,” said Momayez.
The team still considers humans a critical part of space exploration, but these robot swarms could free up astronauts to focus on other mission elements.
“We know that UA is at the forefront of space exploration. So this is a first for the mining department and the new school of mining and mineral resources. We’re really opening the doors to space mining,” said Momayez.
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