A research team from the University of Arizona has received $US500,000 ($679,217) from NASA for a Moon mining technique using swarms of autonomous robots to unearth important mineral resources.
The team believe rare earth metals, titanium, gold and platinum could all be on offer under the Moon’s surface, as the two celestial bodies were likely to have been one in eons gone by.
The robots would be built and ‘trained’ on Earth using associate professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering Jekan Thanga’s neuromorphic learning architecture technique.
He calls the the technique the Human and Explainable Autonomous Robotic System – HEART, for short.
The robots will be trained by HEART to work together in mining and building before being sent to the Moon.
Thanga described the nature of the proposed robots as similar to livestock.
“In a sense, we’re like farmers. We’re breeding talent out of these creatures, or a whole family of creatures, to do certain tasks,” Thanga said.
“By going through this process, we help perfect these artificial creatures whose job it is to do the mining tasks.
“The idea is to have the robots build, set things up and do all the dirty, boring, dangerous stuff, so the astronauts can do the more interesting stuff,” Thanga said.
The funding was provided to the University as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, making it eligible for NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project initiative.
The University’s Department of Mining and Geological Engineering at the University interim head Moe Momayez said the Moon was a whole new challenge compared to Earth mining.
“Here on Earth, we have an unlimited amount of energy to throw at breaking rocks,” Momayez said.
“On the Moon, you have to be a lot more conservative. For example, to break rocks, we use a lot of water, and that’s something we won’t have on the Moon. So, we need new processes, new techniques.
“The most efficient way to break rocks on Earth is through blasting, and nobody has ever set off a blast on the Moon.”