NASA wants to build a train on the MOON for when humans eventually live there

13-05-2024 02:25 PM

Ammon News - If the idea of building a train on the moon sounds like something from the pages of a sci-fi novel, you wouldn't be alone.

But the moon train is actually just one of six 'science fiction-like concepts' to receive new funding from NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program.

Flexible Levitation on a Track, or FLOAT, plans to use levitating magnetic robots to transport up to 100 tonnes of materials on the lunar surface every day.

According to the team behind the Scalextric-like project, this would provide a reliable and autonomous way of moving resources mined on the moon.

Project leader Dr Ethan Schaler, a robotics engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, says: 'A durable, long-life robotic transport system will be critical to the daily operations of a sustainable lunar base in the 2030’s'.

In a NASA blog post, Dr Schaler writes: 'We want to build the first lunar railway system, which will provide reliable, autonomous, and efficient payload transport on the moon.'

Unlike a railway on Earth, this lunar transport network wouldn't use the fixed rails you might be familiar with.

Dr Schaler and his team propose to create lengths of flexible track which can be 'unrolled' directly onto the lunar surface.

These are designed to cut down on construction time since, if the moonbase changes, these tracks could simply be rolled up and moved elsewhere.

The actual moving will be done by a series of 'unpowered magnetic robots' which levitate over the surface of the track.

The track itself will then generate electromagnetic thrust to propel the robots to their destination.

This is the same principle behind maglev trains on Earth, which use strong electromagnetic fields to propel unpowered carriages along tracks.

Much like a floating Scalextric track, it is the rails that provide the power rather than the vehicle itself.

Dr Schaler claims that each robot will be able to carry loads of various shapes and sizes at speeds of around 1 mph (1.61 km/h).

Unlike robots with wheels or legs, these floating carts will avoid wearing down the tracks in the dusty lunar environment.

While the idea of moon bases might seem far-fetched for now, the reality of living on the moon is becoming an increasingly pressing concern.

As part of the Artemis missions, NASA will be exploring and eventually landing near the moon's south pole which is believed to hold ice within its craters.

Although NASA has pushed back the date of its crewed lunar landing, the space agency still has ambitions to establish a human presence on our lunar satellite.

Jim Free, NASA's associate administrator for exploration systems development, recently told reporters that the space agency would likely build more than one base camp as part of the Artemis landings.

Ultimately, NASA and other rival space agencies in Russia and China may all attempt to establish permanent settlements on the moon.

However, due to the harsh environment on the lunar surface, mining and transporting materials may not be a job that's safe for human astronauts.

In the NASA blog post, Dr Schaler explained that FLOAT will 'operate autonomously in the dusty, inhospitable lunar environment.'

The system could be used to transport regolith mined onsite or to ferry materials to and from landing sites or other outposts.

FLOAT is just one of six futuristic ideas that have been selected for phase two funding from NIAC, NASA's 'innovative advanced concepts' program.

These projects range from fluid telescopes to plasma-powered rockets that could take humans to Mars in just two months.

Each project now receives $600,000 to (£487,764) in new funding to develop their technology further.

Dr Shcaler says that his team will use this funding to create a miniature set of tracks and robots for further testing.

If any projects are selected to advance to the next stage then they could even be considered for a future NASA mission.

John Nelson, NIAC program executive, says: 'These diverse, science fiction-like concepts represent a fantastic class of Phase II studies.

'Our NIAC fellows never cease to amaze and inspire, and this class definitely gives NASA a lot to think about in terms of what’s possible in the future.'

Daily Mail

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