NASA in search of small Moon robots

NASA puts out contract offers for robotic Lunar landers

NASA today began looking for small robotic landers it can operate on the Moon.

NASA said the idea behind its Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data (ILDD) program is to "obtain data and gather knowledge that reduces risks for future human and robotic lander designs by employing these missions as unique demonstration testbeds." The ILDD announcement will result in multiple small contracts with a total value up to $30.1 million through 2012, NASA stated.

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NASA stated that ILDD will let its Lunar Lander Project Office increase its knowledge and understanding of the design, testing, and flight lessons to be learned through the use of these landers.  Additionally, this information will let NASA quickly and efficiently implement a plan for building and testing relevant components of lander hardware to be utilized in future human and robotic landers. 

Lunar mission scenarios producing data of interest to NASA may include performing lunar landing using a human mission profile, identification of hazards during landing, precision landing, and extended duration operations.  It would also lead to data associated with hardware design, development and testing; ground operations and integration; launch; trajectory correction maneuvers; lunar braking, burn and landing; and enhanced capabilities, NASA stated.

NASA acknowledged that lots of commercial development has been going on in this realm from companies such as Masten Space Systems and Armadillo Aerospace and that it wants to bolster that work. Another example, the ongoing Google Lunar X Prize completion that challenges teams to land and operate robots on the moon has involved a number of commercial companies vying for the $30 million prize.

NASA recently tested some of its own robots in the rocky environment of the Haughton Crater on Devon Island, Canada to simulate conditions that might be encountered robotic explorers.   In the test NASA used robots, known as K10s developed by the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA's Ames lab.

Using robots for work on the Moon or Mars could save astronauts from performing tedious, repetitive or time-consuming activities. Surveying a site could take hundreds to thousands of readings using ground-penetrating radar, spectrometers, or geotechnical instruments. Additionally, robots could make measurements and take pictures that complement or supplement those initially taken by humans, NASA stated.

The Japanese government is mulling sending its own robot to the moon as well.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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