Meet Rassor, NASA’s new mining robot [pictures]

Engineers at NASA have released details on a prototype mining robot they hope will one day be able to mine resources on the moon.

Dubbed Rassor (Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot) and pronounced 'razor,' the autonomous machine will be tasked with digging up lunar soil and dumping it into another machine placed on the moon's surface.

The second machine, which forms part of the lander that carries Rassor to the moon, then aims to pull water and ice out of the dirt and turn the chemicals into rocket fuel or breathing air for astronauts.

NASA says producing fuel on the moon could save most of the massive cost it takes to send equipment into space, since 90 per cent of a rocket's mass normally consists of propellant.

But while researchers have developed a working prototype the machine is still far from space-ready,  and faces a number challenges.

In order to create usable amounts of resources Rassor would need to operate around 16 hours a day for five years.

It also needs to drive five times faster than the Mars Curiosity rover's top speed of 4cm a second, all the while mining the lunar surface with a pair of rotating drums.

A primary challenge for any digging robot operating off Earth is that they need to be light and small enough to fly on a rocket, but heavy enough to operate in gravity lower than that of Earth.

Engineers said the machine's buckets had been designed to shave the soil a bit at a time, similar to a bulldozer, rather than excavating large chunks all at once.

They also said work had already begun on Rassor 2, a prototype that would be much closer to what NASA could launch in the future.

You can read more about NASA's work on Rassor here.

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