Thursday, June 19, 2014

Let's Do Project M, Robonaut to the Moon.

Copyright 2014 Robert Clark

 Project M was conceived in the aftermath of the cancellation of the Constellation program to return us to the Moon, with no manned missions beyond low Earth orbit (BEO) in sight. It appeared that a manned return to the Moon was too expensive. Project M would send a humanoid robot to the lunar surface as inspiration for us to do such manned missions BEO:

 The estimated cost was $450 million including launch cost. Part of the high cost though would be due to using the Atlas V 411 as the launcher. The SpaceX Falcon 9 v.1.1 rocket though would have comparable performance and would only cost $56 million. The lander used would be the Morpheus lunar lander. Considering the low cost of the Morpheus and the Robonaut, the cost conceivably might be in the $60 million range, certainly well less than $100 million.

 The non-reusable version of the F9 v1.1, which does not need to keep a fuel reserve for return to the launch site, has an estimated payload to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) of 5,745 kg. The delta-v to GTO is 2,500 m/s and the total delta-v from LEO to the lunar surface is 5,930 m/s. Then 3,430 m/s delta-v would have to be supplied by the Morpheus lander. 

 According the Wikipedia specifications on the Project Morpheus lander, it has a propellant mass of 2.9 metric tons (mT), a dry mass of 1.1 mT, and an engine Isp of 321 s. Then it could transport 350 kg the rest of the way to the lunar surface:

321*9.81ln(1 + 2.9/(1.1 + 0.35)) = 3,460 m/s .

 Since Project M was proposed in 2010 there has been significant advance in humanoid robot locomotion, particularly in regards to walking in the vicinity of obstacles and on uneven terrain. DARPA has conducted a competition for humanoid robots completing physical tasks humans could normally do. NASA's entry was a version of the Robonaut given legs called Valkyrie at a 125 kg mass:

 However, Valkyrie did not perform particularly well during the DARPA robotic trials. It might be better to use the Robonaut torso only while using some more advanced robots for the legs such as Boston Dynamics' Atlas: 

 In this prior post I discussed the possibility of one of the Google Lunar X-prize entrants observing Earthrise from the lunar surface:

Full phase Earth from the lunar surface?

  This would have an even greater inspirational effect if done by a humanoid robot.
  However, Project M accomplished with the Morpheus lander would have benefits beyond just that of inspiring an interest in BEO spaceflight. Because the Morpheus lander was developed at such low cost it would give support for the idea a Morpheus-derived manned lander could also be low cost.
 This has importance to those of us who think that a return to the Moon is important to accomplish in itself for man's expansion into space, but also because of the fact it can be used as a stepping-stone for further interplanetary missions to Mars or to near Earth asteroids. 
  And in any case the NASA plan of having a station at L2 from which to direct robotic operations on the lunar surface would still benefit from humanoid robots performing those operations and of those robots being delivered by low cost landers.

  Bob Clark

Update, June 28, 2014: 

  Note the delta-v to many Near Earth Asteroids (NEA's) is less than that to the surface of the Moon:

Near-Earth Asteroid Delta-V for Spacecraft Rendezvous. 

 Then we could also do low cost Robonaut missions to NEA's using the Morpheus lander. This will have importance to accomplishing manned missions to NEA's as well as asteroid mining operations.



Andrew Swallow said...

If Robonaut can climb back into his cabin by adding insulation Robonaut may be able to survive the extreme cold of the lunar nights. A couple of solar panels on the lander may be sufficient to recharge the robot.

Tony Rusi said...

Find some stacked lava tubes that make a lunar cold trap and send solar-jet fuel making equipment too!

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