We can rely on the thermal mass of the habitat and heaters for a while. The reference mission calls for having the robot pile up the insulation after the crew has headed home. We wouldn't want the crew shoveling dirt during their short stay. The space station relies on just a few layers of insulation to handle the temperature extremes, so we should be able to get by for a while with insulation. Of course, the space station is snuggled up to a nice, warm planet throughout its life.
So this becomes a challenge for the robotics technical committee more than anyone else.
The basic concept -- and it's no more than that -- is to use some equipment added to a derivative of the rover that Carnegie-Mellon is working on in the partnership with LunaCorp. (The partnership is called the Lunar Rover Initiative.) Our thinking was to put a bolt pattern on the rover's structure to accommodate the added equipment (whatever it is), and connectors for power and data. The basic design provides mobility, high-resolution video, power, navigation, and communication.
We haven't yet worked out how much mechanical power is needed to move move dirt or how to protect the robots at night. We also haven't worked out any numbers on thermal stability and how fast the lunar base will lose heat before we can put a blanket over it. So right now we're going on a gut feeling; my gut feeling, a fact which scares me -- the only reliability there is trusting intuition derived from several years of designing spaceships and reading hundreds of technical papers about lunar bases. With that caution in mind: my gut feeling is that the habitat will make it through at least one lunar night with no problem. We're more worried about the robot itself because the robot is more exposed to heat loss.
A prototype rover traversed 220 km of the Atacama Desert in Chile in the summer of 1997, and further tests in Chile and Antartica planned through 1998 and 1999. That gives us a timeframe for learning more about what it can really do, and developing conceptual mission plans to test against the rover's capabilities.
This whole area needs a lot more creative thought and serious number-crunching. Two ideas are using sandbags or lunar bricks.
The simplest solution might be just to pile dirt on the module. If access to the external side of the pressure shell is an issue, we might have the crew throw a tarp over the module and provide stand-offs to support it away from the pressure vessel. The robot would then be building a cave around the module. Moon dirt tends to stick to itself (and everything else) so that cave might turn out to be quite rigid after rolling a rover over it a few times.
Also see the separate document about adapting the CMU
Author: Gregory Bennett. Maintained by ASI Web Team <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Submit update to this page. Maintained with WebSite Director. Updated Fri, Nov 26, 1999.