Help NASA Design a Robot to Dig on the Moon

A close-up view of the bucket drums on the Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot (RASSOR) in the regolith bin inside Swamp Works at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 5, 2019.
A close-up view of the bucket drums on the Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot (RASSOR) in the regolith bin inside Swamp Works at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 5, 2019. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Digging on the Moon is a hard job for a robot. It has to be able to collect and move lunar soil, or regolith, but anything launching to the Moon needs to be lightweight. The problem is excavators rely on their weight and traction to dig on Earth. NASA has a solution, but is looking for ideas to make it better. Once matured, robotic excavators could help NASA establish a sustainable presence on the Moon under the Artemis lunar exploration program, a few years after landing astronauts on the surface.

Engineers have tested various configurations of a Moon-digging robot called RASSOR – short for Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot – in a large lunar simulant sand box at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Now, NASA is asking the public to help design a new bucket drum, the portion of the robot that captures the regolith and keeps it from falling out. The regolith can then be transported to a designated location where reverse rotation of the drum allows it to fall back out.

RASSOR’s current bucket drums are hollow cylinders positioned on either end of the robot, with scoops around the circumference of the cylinders. The robot digs in opposing ends toward the other, which balances the excavation forces and makes it easier to dig.

NASA’s RASSOR Bucket Drum Design Challenge is open through April 20, 2020. The challenge, sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), seeks a better shape for RASSOR’s bucket drum and baffling, or sheet metal inside of it that can capture and hold more regolith. GrabCAD, a website people can join and post 3D models of almost anything, hosts the challenge and eligible individuals, with an idea can submit original designs that have not been previously published, exhibited or put into production for this important part of RASSOR.

“We’ve held challenges on GrabCAD in the past and they were very successful,” said Jason Schuler, a robotics engineer in the Exploration Research and Technology Programs at Kennedy. “As a repository for computer-aided design, the platform helps us reach professional designers, engineers, manufacturers and students outside of the space industry who may have an idea that could benefit NASA.”

Successful designs for this competition will have a fill ratio of higher than 50%, which means the design’s interior volume will be more than half full with regolith when it reached the maximum amount it can hold.

“With RASSOR, we’re no longer relying on the traction or the weight of the robot. It is possible to excavate on the Moon or Mars with a really lightweight robot,” Schuler said.

“RASSOR is excavation and transportation all in one, but we’d like to improve the design.”

At the end of the competition, the design entries will be judged on a set of criteria, including width of the scoops, bucket drum mass, diameter and length, volume of regolith captured and practicality of the design. In addition to the CAD files, entries must include a short description of how the design works.

A total of $7,000 will be awarded for the top five submissions. For more information about prize amounts and how to enter, visit:

https://grabcad.com/challenges/nasa-regolith-advanced-surface-systems-operations-robot-rassor-bucket-drum-design-challenge

 The challenge is funded by NASA’s Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative within STMD, which champions technologies needed to live on and explore the Moon. NASA Tournament Lab, part of STMD’s Prizes and Challenges program, manages the challenge. The program supports the use of public competitions and crowdsourcing as tools to advance NASA R&D and other mission needs.

Learn more about opportunities to participate in your space program via NASA prizes and challenges: www.nasa.gov/solve

Artemis includes sending a suite of new science instruments and technology demonstrations to study the Moon, landing the first woman and next man on the lunar surface by 2024, and establishing a sustained presence by 2028. The agency will leverage its Artemis experience and technologies to prepare for the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars. RASSOR is a technology project being developed by Swamp Works at Kennedy that could be used on the Moon or Mars.

SpaceX CRS-20 Prelaunch News Conference

SpaceX CRS-20 mission patch.A prelaunch news conference for SpaceX’s 20th Commercial Resupply Services mission for NASA to the International Space Station is set for 4 p.m. EST today.

Participants include:

  • Joel Montalbano, manager for International Space Station Program
  • Jennifer Buchli, deputy chief scientist for International Space Station Program
  • Hans Koenigsmann, vice president, Build and Flight Reliability at SpaceX
  • Mike McAleenan, launch weather officer, 45th Space Wing, U.S. Air Force

Watch the news conference on NASA Television.

NASA commercial cargo provider SpaceX is targeting 11:50 p.m. EST tonight, March 6, for the launch of resupply mission to the space station.

Follow the launch countdown tonight beginning at 11:30 p.m. on NASA TV and the launch blog. To learn more about the SpaceX CRS-20 mission, visit the mission homepage at http://www.nasa.gov/spacex.

“What’s on Board” Briefing for SpaceX CRS-20 Mission

Airbus workers unpack the Bartolomeo platform in the Space Station Processing Facility high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 30, 2020.
Airbus workers unpack the Bartolomeo platform in the Space Station Processing Facility high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Jan. 30, 2020. Bartolomeo was manufactured by Airbus Defence and Space. The platform will be delivered to the International Space Station aboard SpaceX’s 20th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-20) mission for the agency. The platform will attach to the exterior of the space station’s European Columbus Module. Photo credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky

A briefing about the science payloads for delivery on the SpaceX CRS-20 mission to the International Space Station is set for today at 3 p.m. Tune in to NASA Television. Participants include:

  • Jennifer Buchli, deputy chief scientist for NASA’s International Space Station Program Science Office, who will share an overview of the research being conducted aboard the space station and how it benefits exploration and humanity.
  • Michael Roberts, interim chief scientist for the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory, who will discuss the lab’s work in advancing science in space, and in developing partnerships that drive industrialization through microgravity research.
  • Bill Corely, director of business development for Airbus Defence and Space, and Bartolomeo Project Manager Andreas Schutte, who will discuss Bartolomeo, a new commercial research platform from ESA (European Space Agency), set to be installed on the exterior of the orbiting laboratory.
  • Chunhui Xu, associate professor of Emory University School of Medicine, and principle investigator for the Generation of Cardiomyocytes from Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (MVP Cell-03) experiment, who will discuss the study on the generation of specialized heart muscle cells for use in research and clinical applications.
  • Paul Patton, senior manager, front end innovation and regulatory for Delta Faucet, and Garry Marty, principal product engineer for Delta Faucet, who will discuss the Droplet Formation Study, which evaluates water droplet formation and water flow of Delta Faucet’s H2Okinetic showerhead technology. This research in microgravity could help improve technology, creating better performance and improved user experience while conserving water and energy.
  • Aaron Beeler, professor of medicinal chemistry at Boston University, and principal investigator, and co-investigator Matthew Mailloux of Flow Chemistry Platform for Synthetic Reactions on ISS, which will study the effects of microgravity on chemical reactions, as a first step toward on-demand chemical synthesis on the space station.

Weather Forecast Favorable for SpaceX CRS-20 Launch

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon cargo module lifts off Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2019, at 12:29 p.m. EST. It was SpaceX’s 19th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-19) mission for NASA to the International Space Station.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon cargo module lifts off Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2019, at 12:29 p.m. EST. It was SpaceX’s 19th Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-19) mission for NASA to the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA/Tony Gray/Tim Terry/Kevin O’Connell

Meteorologists with the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing predict a 60 percent chance of favorable weather for liftoff of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for the company’s 20th commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. Launch is scheduled for Friday, March 6 at 11:50 p.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Skies will clear through the day Friday, and winds will become gusty out of the north as a high-pressure area moves east. The primary weather concern for launch is liftoff winds with the tight pressure gradient behind the front.

Kennedy Space Center Briefs Community Leaders on Busy Year Ahead

NASA Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, far left, moderates a panel discussion with senior leaders of NASA and center programs during a Community Leaders Update on Feb. 18, 2020, at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.
NASA Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, far left, moderates a panel discussion with senior leaders of NASA and center programs during a Community Leaders Update on Feb. 18, 2020, at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. From second from left are Tom Engler, director, Center Planning and Development; Jenny Lyons, deputy manager, Gateway Logistics Element; Barbara Brown, chief technologist, Exploration Research and Technology Programs; Jeremy Parsons, deputy manager, Exploration Ground Systems; and Phil Meade, associate director, Spaceport Integration and Services. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Community leaders, business executives, partners, educators and government representatives gathered at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex on Feb. 18, 2020, for an update on Kennedy Space Center’s accomplishments and what’s ahead for this year. Center Director Robert Cabana greeted the group and served as moderator of a panel discussion with senior leaders of NASA programs based at the center.

Trent Smith, left, NASA Veggie project manager at Kennedy Space Center, talks to an attendee about the Veggie plant growth system that is currently in use on the International Space Station, during a Community Leaders Update on Feb. 18, 2020, at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.
Trent Smith, left, NASA Veggie project manager at Kennedy Space Center, talks to an attendee about the Veggie plant growth system that is currently in use on the International Space Station, during a Community Leaders Update on Feb. 18, 2020, at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Panelists were Phil Meade, associate director, Spaceport Integration and Services; Jeremy Parsons, deputy manager, Exploration Ground Systems (EGS); Barbara Brown, chief technologist, Exploration Research and Technology (ER&T) Programs; Jenny Lyons, deputy manager, Gateway Logistics Element; and Tom Engler, director, Center Planning and Development (CPD).

The panelists gave an overview of the past year’s accomplishments, focused on what’s in store for this year and answered questions from the audience.

Artemis missions will pave the way for missions to Mars. EGS is preparing all of the ground support equipment and facilities for Artemis I. Verification and validations have been completed on the mobile launcher in the Vehicle Assembly Building. Simulations of launch countdown are taking place in Launch Control Center Firing Room 1. Teams are practicing stacking of Space Launch System boosters using pathfinder replicas. “Work is continuing on the Spaceport Command and Control System,” Parsons said. “The Orion spacecraft for Artemis I will arrive later this year.”

Steve Payne, far left, with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, visits with a guest during a Community Leaders Update hosted by Kennedy Space Center on Feb. 18, 2020.
Steve Payne, far left, with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, visits with a guest during a Community Leaders Update hosted by Kennedy Space Center on Feb. 18, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflet

Gateway is NASA’s permanent lunar outpost that will be positioned in orbit around the Moon. Gateway will include a power and propulsion element and habitation modules, and eventually airlock capabilities. The center’s piece of the Gateway is logistics services, which will be used to deliver cargo, consumables and supplies for scientific research and technology demonstrations and commercial use.

“This center assignment leverages Kennedy’s extensive experience in enabling commercial services, as well as our spacecraft and payload integration and processing expertise,” Lyons said.

Teams from NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems and Space Launch System (SLS) practice SLS booster stacking with pathfinders inside Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building on Nov. 19, 2019.
Teams from NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems and Space Launch System (SLS) practice SLS booster stacking with pathfinders inside Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building on Nov. 19, 2019. SLS will launch the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024 through the Artemis program. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Spaceport Integration and Services is maintaining an integrated master schedule of all launches and processing activities. Kennedy and the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station are on track to manage more than 40 launches this year. The team continues to build relationships with commercial and government partners. The future includes keeping up with the launch demand and operating in non-traditional roles.

“We can only be successful when commercial and government space are integrated,” Cabana said.

CPD is working on attracting more businesses to the spaceport. The goal is to enable companies to be successful; but the companies need to work on achieving that success. They are supporting one of the center’s core missions: enable companies to fly what they have to space. Currently, Boeing, SpaceX, United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin are doing just that.

Food production–plants and habitats–and dust mitigation are two of the technologies being developed by ER&T. “Plant production has to be compact,” Brown said. Two growth chambers developed here are currently on the International Space Station: Veggie and the Advanced Plant Habitat. The team also is looking at regolith operations and how to dampen the effect of dust that is kicked-up as landers touchdown on surfaces such as the Moon.

“We have an amazing year ahead of us,” Cabana said. “It’s our community working together that makes it so successful.”

SpaceX CRS-20 Launch Targeted for March 6

SpaceX is targeting 11:50 p.m. EST Friday, March 6, 2020 for the launch of its 20th resupply mission to the International Space Station.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the Dragon cargo module lifts off Space Launch Complex 40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in the early morning May 4, 2019. Liftoff was at 2:48 a.m. EDT. SpaceX is targeting 11:50 p.m. EST Friday, March 6, 2020 for the launch of its 20th resupply mission to the International Space Station. Photo credit: NASA

SpaceX is now targeting March 6 at 11:50 p.m. EST for launch of its 20th commercial resupply services mission (CRS-20) to the International Space Station. During standard preflight inspections, SpaceX identified a valve motor on the second stage engine behaving not as expected and determined the safest and most expedient path to launch is to utilize the next second stage in line that was already at the Cape and ready for flight. The new second stage has already completed the same preflight inspections with all hardware behaving as expected. The updated target launch date provides the time required to complete preflight integration and final checkouts.

The cargo Dragon will lift off atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida carrying more than 5,600 pounds of science investigations and cargo to the station, including research on particle foam manufacturing, water droplet formation, the human intestine and other cutting-edge investigations.

Learn more about space station activities by following @space_station and @ISS_Research on Twitter as well as the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

Team Practices Booster Stacking for Artemis Missions

In High Bay 4 of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a crane moves Space Launch System (SLS) solid rocket booster pathfinder segments to stack them atop other pathfinder segments during a training exercise on Jan. 8, 2020.
In High Bay 4 of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a crane moves Space Launch System (SLS) solid rocket booster pathfinder segments to stack them atop other pathfinder segments during a training exercise on Jan. 8, 2020. Photo credit: NASA/Glenn Benson

NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems team, including engineers, technicians and crane operators with contractor Jacobs, are practicing lifting and stacking operations with pathfinder segments of Northrup Grumman’s solid rocket boosters, which will provide extra thrust for NASA’s Space Launch System rocket. Practice took place in High Bay 4 of the Vehicle Assembly Building at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

”The pathfinder training has gone extremely well,” according to Michael McClure, Jacobs’ lead engineer for the Handling, Mechanical and Structures Engineering Group. “This is part of a series of practice exercises, which are providing great experience, especially for our new technicians, engineers, quality control personnel and crane operators.”

Stacking rehearsals help prepare the team for actual processing of launch hardware for Artemis missions. These specific pathfinder segments are inert, full-scale replicas of the actual solid rocket boosters, with the same weight (300,000 pounds) and center of gravity.

During launch hardware processing, the booster segments will be shipped by train to Kennedy from the Northrup Grumman facility in Utah. They will arrive at a processing facility to be configured for final processing, then move to the VAB, where the launch processing team will stack them vertically on the mobile launcher. After the boosters are stacked, the SLS Core Stage will be lowered onto the mobile launcher and will be mated to the boosters.

At launch, the five-segment, 17-story-tall twin boosters will provide 3.6 million pounds of thrust each at liftoff to help launch the SLS carrying Orion on Artemis I, its first uncrewed mission beyond the Moon.

Watch a time lapse video of booster segment training at https://go.nasa.gov/2ts6u3w.

 

 

 

 

 

Boeing Starliner Orbital Flight Test Update

A two-stage United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida for Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test, Dec. 20, 2019. Liftoff occurred at 6:36 a.m. EST. The uncrewed Orbital Flight Test is the Starliner’s first flight to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
A two-stage United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida for Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test, Dec. 20, 2019. Liftoff occurred at 6:36 a.m. EST. The uncrewed Orbital Flight Test is the Starliner’s first flight to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Photo credit: NASA/Glenn Benson

After a successful launch at 6:36 a.m. EST Friday on the ULA Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner is an unplanned, but stable orbit. The team is assessing what test objectives can be achieved before a safe return of the spacecraft to land in White Sands, New Mexico. NASA and Boeing officials held a post-launch news conference Friday morning.

Starliner Ready for its Inaugural Flight

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket rolled out of the Vertical Integration Facility to the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 20, 2019.
Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket rolled out of the Vertical Integration Facility to the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 18, 2019. Photo credit: ULA

Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket rolled out of the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 earlier today. Starliner now stands poised at the launch pad awaiting its maiden flight on Boeing’s uncrewed Orbital Flight Test to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Liftoff is scheduled for 6:36 a.m. EST Friday, Dec. 20. The flight test will provide valuable data on the end-to-end performance of the Atlas V rocket, Starliner spacecraft, and ground systems, as well as in-orbit, docking, and landing operations. The data will be used as part of NASA’s process of certifying Boeing’s crew transportation system for carrying astronauts to and from the space station.

Meteorologists with the U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron continue to predict an 80% chance of favorable weather for launch on Friday morning. Primary concerns for launch day are the Cumulus Cloud Rule and User Ground Winds violations during the instantaneous launch window.

Launch Readiness Review Complete, Boeing Orbital Flight Test ‘Go’ for Launch

The ULA Atlas V rocket, topped by the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, stand on the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41 at CCAFS on Dec. 6, during a wet dress rehearsal for Boeing's Orbital Flight Test.
The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, topped by the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, stands on the launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41 at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Friday, Dec. 6, during a wet dress rehearsal for Boeing’s Orbital Flight Test. Image credit: NASA

Teams from NASA, Boeing and United Launch Alliance are “go” for a launch following today’s launch readiness review ahead of the Orbital Flight Test mission to the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Launch is scheduled for 6:36 a.m. EST Friday, Dec. 20, from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Meteorologists with the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing continue to predict an 80% chance of favorable weather with the primary concerns for launch day are the Cumulus Cloud Rule and User Ground Winds violations during the instantaneous launch window.

At 2 p.m., NASA will host a prelaunch news briefing at Kennedy Space Center. Participants are:

  • Kathy Lueders, manager, NASA Commercial Crew Program
  • Joel Montalbano, deputy manager, International Space Station Program
  • John Mulholland, vice president and program manager, Boeing Commercial Crew Program
  • John Elbon, chief operating officer, United Launch Alliance
  • Pat Forrester, astronaut office chief, Johnson Space Center
  • Will Ulrich, launch weather officer, 45th Weather Squadron