A team of researchers from the University of Arizona College of Technology has launched a new project to promote space mining methods in flocks of autonomous drones. The project received $ 500,000 in NASA funding, and the university received funding from NASA’s Minority University research and education project, the Space Technology Artemis Research Initiative.
Moe Momayez is Interim Director of the Department of Mining and Geological Engineering and David & Edith Lowell is Director of Mining and Geological Engineering.
“It’s really exciting to be at the forefront of a new industry,” Momayez said. “I remember watching TV programs like“ Space: 1999 ”as a child, about the bases of the moon. Here we are in 2021, and we are talking about the settlement of the moon.“
Mining of precious metals
The giant influence hypothesis states that the earth and the moon originate from a common parent body. Therefore, the researchers expect their chemical compositions to be relatively similar. Rare earth metals can be mined by lunar surface mining and are used in smartphones and medical devices, among others. These metals include titanium, precious metals such as gold and platinum, and helium-3, a stable helium isotope that is very rare on earth. Helium-3 could be used as fuel for nuclear power plants.
On Earth, miners have to drill through a rock if they want to dig ore embedded in it. Momayez developed an electrochemical process to drill rock, and it is five times faster than any previous method. However, moon mining is even more challenging.
“Here on earth, we have unlimited energy to throw stones at breaking,” he said. “You have to be much more conservative in the month. For example, we use a lot of water to break rocks, and that’s something we don’t have in the moon. So we need new processes, new technologies. The most effective way to break rocks on Earth is by blasting, “
Autonomous robotic flocks
Autonomous robotic flocks can help people find new ways to extract lunar materials from the Earth’s laboratory space.
Jekan Thanga is an associate professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering who adapts a neuromorphic learning architecture. The technology developed in his laboratory is called the Human and Explained Autonomous Robotic System (HEART).
The HEART system trains robots to work together in mining, quarrying and construction tasks and improves robots ’collaboration skills.
The team plans to build and train robots on Earth in practice, and eventually they want a fully independent flock of robots that can operate without Earth instructions. These robots would be used to extract materials and build simple structures.
“In a sense, we are like farmers. We cultivate talents from these creatures or the entire family of creatures to perform certain tasks, ”Thanga said. “By going through this process, we are helping to complement these artificial creatures tasked with performing mining missions.”
According to the team, the robots can free up time for astronauts, allowing them to focus their forces on other exciting aspects of space exploration.
“The idea is to get robots to build, set things up and do all the dirty, boring, dangerous things so that astronauts can do more interesting things,” Thanga said.