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"Part-Time" Scientists Aim To Build Autonomous Moon Rover

samzenpus posted more than 2 years ago | from the do-your-own-driving dept.

Moon 111

First time accepted submitter ziegenberg writes "The lunar rover 'Asimov' developed by the Part-Time Scientists, and due to land in 2014, will be the first autonomously navigated rover on the Moon. Its autonomous navigation system is a major technological leap. While the Russian Moon rovers Lunokhod 1 and 2 in the early 70s were fully controlled from Earth, today's Mars rovers like NASA's Mars Exploration Rover 'Opportunity,' which has been tirelessly exploring the Red Planet since 2004, are autonomous. However, Opportunity requires nearly three minutes to process a pair of images — a delay that causes it to move at an average speed of just 1 cm/sec or less. New developments by the technology partnership between the DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics and the PTS have created, for the first time, an autonomous navigation system for a rover that has the capacity to process multiple images per second. The technology boosts a stereo camera that Asimov will use to calculate its own motion, generate a 2.5-dimensional environmental model, evaluate the site and determine a collision-free path — all in real time."

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As long as (0)

unixhero (1276774) | more than 2 years ago | (#40097415)

As long as I can try it

Re:As long as (1)

durrr (1316311) | more than 2 years ago | (#40098181)

On a only somwhat related topic; could GPS work on the earth-facing side of the moon?

Re:As long as (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#40098845)

On a only somwhat related topic; could GPS work on the earth-facing side of the moon?

Theoretically, yes; but practically, I doubt it. There would be signal strength issues for one, especially considering that the GPS transmitter antennas are pointed at the Earth. Furthermore, you'd need a special receiver, since off the shelf units have software that are trying to calculate latitude and longitude coordinates on the Earth: You'd either get the lat/long of the spot on the Earth where the moon is directly overhead, with an altitude reading of 384,400 km (the distance between the Earth and the Moon), or an error. Finally, there may not be enough resolution of location to be usable for lunar navigation.

You are in luck, however. NASA is researching a lunar GPS constellation for use in future missions. In the mean time, I'd suggest dropping a few beacons and using tried and true triangulation and dead reckoning techniques.

Re:As long as (1)

necro81 (917438) | more than 2 years ago | (#40099191)

You could probably do very well with measurements of the sun's and/or Earth's location above the (lunar) horizon, combined with a very accurate clock. That is, after all, how latitude (and, to a lesser extent, longitude) were measured out on the open sea for centuries.

Re:As long as (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40099349)

They've had very accurate clocks for centuries?

Re:As long as (1)

jamstar7 (694492) | more than 2 years ago | (#40100313)

They were called chronometers, and were developed in the 18th Century for use in navigation. A couple governments had prizes like the X Prize for the most accurate chronometers. IIRC, they had to keep variances within something like a couple seconds a year to be certified as a chronometer.

Re:As long as (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40100347)

They've had very accurate clocks for centuries?

Yes, they have. [wikipedia.org]

Re:As long as (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | more than 2 years ago | (#40101409)

In the mean time, I'd suggest dropping a few beacons and using tried and true triangulation and dead reckoning techniques.

Off-the-shelf star-tracker of the type used on everything from deep-space probes to the Dragon capsule, plus an atomic-clock-on-a-chip, plus a big bumper book of star tables.

(Dropped beacons would quickly fall below the close horizon on the moon. Plus you'd still have to determine the location of the beacons, using a method small and cheap enough to throw away. So why not put that method on the rover?)

Re:As long as (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#40100421)

As long as I can try it

You can, at least in your mind's eye. Just read science fiction and you ARE on the moon! I love the rover's name, Asimov is my favorite author. They should have named the probe that visited Vesta last year "Asimov", someone probably was too superstitious (imagine the flak if it had been marooned). Heinlein would have been a better name (The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress).

I'm surprised there weren't rovers on the moon twenty years ago.

Re:As long as (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40101389)

They should have named the probe that visited Vesta last year "Asimov", someone probably was too superstitious (imagine the flak if it had been marooned). Heinlein would have been a better name (The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress).

Or we could name probes dumb things like "Pioneer", "Viking", and "Dawn", and save all the inspirational SF author names for human-carrying spaceships...

I'm surprised there weren't rovers on the moon twenty years ago.

There were, though they'd both broken down by then. Did you miss the Space Race? Lunokhod mean anything to you? Longest distance traveled by a robot on the surface of a terrestrial body, still not beaten?

*sigh* Here you go... [wikipedia.org]

Re:As long as (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#40102353)

Opportunity is a mere 3km short of Lunokhod's 37km record, and now that Spring has returned to Endeavour Crater, Opportunity is once again on the move. (The rover was parked for the winter.) Look for Lunokhod's record to be broken soon.

Re:As long as (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40103407)

I know, and as an American, I'm certainly rooting for us to beat those Godless Commie Bastards ;), almost as much as I'm rooting as a human interested in progress of exploration by whothefuckever, but the fact that the record's about to be broken makes GGP's ignorance of the current holder all the more inexcusable.

As a colour purple. (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | more than 2 years ago | (#40101589)

Hopefully they are aware enough of Asimov's work to print the robot ID number "ASM-05" on the rover.

(No, actually, I'm just glad they didn't create yet another fucking backronym... "Autonomous Science and Investigation MOon Vehicle".)

Part-time scientists? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40097433)

Part-time scientists? What are they doing with the rest of their time? Are they spending it by being "part-time religious extremists"?

Re:Part-time scientists? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40097849)

Part-time scientists? What are they doing with the rest of their time?

Maybe reading Slashdot. :-)

Re:Part-time scientists? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40099133)

You can't be a scientist just part-time. You either are a scientist or not, it's not about how much you "do" it, it's about formal education (or maybe even informal) and a way of thinking.

Re:Part-time scientists? (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#40102249)

Maybe being a Part-Time Scientist is all about what the name of your rover building team is, and has nothing to do with either being part time or full time, or even being a scientist at all.

Re:Part-time scientists? (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#40102959)

No, a being a scientist is about doing science. Just having science education doesn't make you a scientist.

GPUs continue to take off ( this time literally ) (3, Interesting)

boshi (612264) | more than 2 years ago | (#40097473)

It seems like every month now that I wake up in the morning and see another amazing application for GPUs. It is incredible to see the progress that a multi-billion dollar entertainment industry can bring to other markets like space exploration that would normally run on super expensive first-generation prototype hardware.

Re:GPUs continue to take off ( this time literally (1)

C0C0C0 (688434) | more than 2 years ago | (#40098647)

You are so right! That's why I like to send nVidia a check for around $800 every year or so. I want to do my part to support science!

Re:GPUs continue to take off ( this time literally (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40098813)

You could also buy an nvidia graphic card for 800$ every year instead :D

Re:GPUs continue to take off ( this time literally (3, Informative)

cusco (717999) | more than 2 years ago | (#40098957)

Woosh!

Re:GPUs continue to take off ( this time literally (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40101603)

Is that the sound of your new GPU's heatsink fan?

Re:GPUs continue to take off ( this time literally (1)

cusco (717999) | more than 2 years ago | (#40098967)

Now just think about what could be done with the trillion dollars wasted every year on the Pentagon . . .

"Avg speed of 1 cm/sec" and a question (4, Interesting)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 2 years ago | (#40097495)

Opportunity (the rover) has [wikipedia.org] a ration of 560 W*h/day for everything it needs to do - and this includes moving its 180 kg.

Granted, the insolation will be better on the Moon than on Mars (closer to the Sun), but... just how much power their GPU is going to require for computing the 2.5 D env data?

Re:"Avg speed of 1 cm/sec" and a question (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40097781)

Opportunity (the rover) has [wikipedia.org] a ration of 560 W*h/day for everything it needs to do - and this includes moving its 180 kg.

A simpler way to say that is that it consumes, on average, 23 W.

Of course the moon rover going faster already means it will need considerably more energy even without considering the additional computing power. However I guess the typical pattern will be: Move to a target, do some experiments, move to a new target, do new experiments. The GPU (and movement) energy is only required during the movement phase, not during the experimental phase. Since faster movement also means the movement time (and thus GPU time) is shorter, it might collect energy for the next movement during the experiment phase (however, collecting more energy also means needing a bigger battery, which adds to the weight and therefore the movement energy cost; OTOH battery technology also has advanced since the Mars rover).

Actually assuming the GPU is switched off during non-movement, a more interesting measure than power would be energy over distance.

Re:"Avg speed of 1 cm/sec" and a question (5, Informative)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 2 years ago | (#40097803)

The main problem with Spirit and Opportunity was that there were extreme limitations on size and mass. Thus the unusual and innovative method of a "beachball" landing... which given the restrictions made the whole thing possible. Other means such as retro-rockets, as with the current mission, simply were not physically possible given those conditions, and that was calculated in the very beginning. Thus the unusual -- one might say -- "alternative" -- landing method. It maximized the amount of scientific instruments that the rovers could carry.

Due to the size and mass restrictions, nuclear power was also not an option, and the size of the solar arrays was necessarily limited. Nevertheless, while I know you are not criticizing the two rovers, it must be stated: given the constraints under which they had to operate, they worked remarkably well, and lasted years beyond their planned 90-day lifespan. If ever there was a NASA success, Spirit and Opportunity are it.

Re:"Avg speed of 1 cm/sec" and a question (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 2 years ago | (#40097807)

"If ever there was a NASA success, Spirit and Opportunity are it."

Along with the actual moon landings, that is. I would rate them pretty closely together.

Re:"Avg speed of 1 cm/sec" and a question (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 2 years ago | (#40098617)

Due to the size and mass restrictions, nuclear power was also not an option, and the size of the solar arrays was necessarily limited. Nevertheless, while I know you are not criticizing the two rovers, it must be stated: given the constraints under which they had to operate, they worked remarkably well, and lasted years beyond their planned 90-day lifespan. If ever there was a NASA success, Spirit and Opportunity are it.

Indeed, I'm not criticizing. I just wonder what the energy budget the Moon rover will have. It seems that placing the rover on the Moon will have lower constraints then for the Mars case. A lower gravity allows for lower (less speedy) insertion orbits, not climbing against Sun's gravity well - it just means the rover may be heavier - hell, the soviet Lunokhod 2 [wikipedia.org] weighted 840 kg. However there are some other constraints:
- the Moon "night" is 14-15 days long - does the rover needs a heavier radioactive source to keep warm?
- Moon doesn't have atmosphere, thus no chance of aerobraking during landing - would this bring some difficulties for the beach-ball landing as well?
- It seems the dust on the Moon was what caused the death of Lunokhod, is this dust in any way more special than the one on Mars?

Re:"Avg speed of 1 cm/sec" and a question (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 2 years ago | (#40099413)

Surviving a lunar night is a legitimate concern. It doesn't necessarily need an RTG (radioisotope thermoelectric generator) for an energy source and I've seen some very interesting proposals with Google Lunar X-Prize teams that simply bury themselves into the lunar soil at dusk for insulation, but it is a tough challenge. Another approach is to build a "garage" for an exploration vehicle to spend the nights. This is assuming that the exploration vehicle is something like the Sojourner vehicle used in the Mars Pathfinder mission, which is a good example of what many of the GLXP teams are strongly considering as a prototype vehicle.

One really odd proposal I saw was to try and land near one of the Apollo landing sites and try to find some of the RTGs left behind by the Apollo astronauts. With the exception of Apollo 11, all of the rest of the manned landings on the Moon had them and some calculations showed they are still producing a significant amount of heat even today. The trick to using those RTGs as a heat source is mainly political rather than technical, as some folks from NASA got really pissed such ideas were even floated around at all. Checking out an Apollo landing site from the ground level for the first time in 40 years does sound like an interesting prospect in and of itself though.

Most landing system to the Moon do require powered descent of some sort or another, unless the goal is to perform a deliberate impact instead. There have been some lunar exploration missions which that has been an explicit goal so it isn't too far fetched. Keep in mind that the reason you need to get creative on Mars is because it has an atmosphere. There is enough of an atmosphere on Mars that you need to worry about it in mission planning, but there isn't enough of an atmosphere to really be useful like it is for missions to Venus or Titan. There were flights to both of those bodies where the probes landed on the ground and continued to transmit data in spite of the fact that landing was not part of the mission profile. That has never happened on Mars where the opposite has been far more common: spacecraft crashing in spite of good faith attempts to perform a "soft" landing. The Moon isn't nearly so bad and has a much higher success rate for vehicles landing there.

Lunar dust is an issue, mainly because it is so incredibly abrasive. On the Earth and even on Mars, the dust bangs into other dust particles and becomes weathered and rounded. On the Moon, due to a lack of atmosphere, the dust particles just cut through almost everything they encounter and have very sharp edges. Lunar dust can also get very fine and work their way into any joint. By comparison, the extra fine dust on the Earth and on Mars generally stays suspended in the atmosphere (part of what gives Mars its distinctive red colored sky). On the Earth, it also turns into mud and is washed out of the sky in rainstorms. Then again, that is part of what makes clay.

Re:"Avg speed of 1 cm/sec" and a question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40103117)

The trick to using those RTGs as a heat source is mainly political rather than technical, as some folks from NASA got really pissed such ideas were even floated around at all.

New food for conspiracy theorists: Obviously those NASA people are pissed because that way people might find out that there's nothing at the landing places ...

Re:"Avg speed of 1 cm/sec" and a question (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#40098939)

Thus the unusual and innovative method of a "beachball" landing... which given the restrictions made the whole thing possible. Other means such as retro-rockets, as with the current mission, simply were not physically possible given those conditions...

Um... You may want to go back and review those landings [youtube.com] . Spirit and Opportunity also had a retro-rocket "sky crane" component.

Re:"Avg speed of 1 cm/sec" and a question (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 2 years ago | (#40102771)

"Spirit and Opportunity also had a retro-rocket "sky crane" component."

But it couldn't carry them all the way down to the surface. True, and I should have clarified that. But obviously the tetrahedral "beach balls" were not dropped all the way from orbit.

Re:"Avg speed of 1 cm/sec" and a question (3, Interesting)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#40097873)

The moon also has a rather longer day - a lunar rover running solar would have to operate for fifteen days of sun, then hibernate for fifteen days of darkness. And the occasional eclipse. With that and the lack of an atmosphere, solar power isn't going to be an issue. More concerning is the task of keeping it from melting after fifteen days of intense solar radiation and no atmospheric cooling.

Re:"Avg speed of 1 cm/sec" and a question (2)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 2 years ago | (#40097999)

More concerning is the task of keeping it from melting after fifteen days of intense solar radiation and no atmospheric cooling.

Actually, this should not be much of a problem. For example, slightly pressurized helium (which has a high thermal conductivity) could carry the heat of the solar panel to a radiative "heat sink" in the shadow behind it, or it could be physically coupled by thermally conductive metal to the heat sink.

Radiative heat sinks in the shadow of a panel is a technique is used by nuclear-powered space probes (the Voyagers, for example). In fact it has been shown that the radiation (photons) from the heat sinks, impacting the backside of the antenna reflector, has acted like a "reverse solar sail", and has "negatively-bootstrapped" the probe: slowing it down in its path.

Re:"Avg speed of 1 cm/sec" and a question (1)

nospam007 (722110) | more than 2 years ago | (#40098153)

"The moon also has a rather longer day - a lunar rover running solar would have to operate for fifteen days of sun, then hibernate for fifteen days of darkness."

Unless the military 'tests' their laser canons to keep it running in the dark.

Re:"Avg speed of 1 cm/sec" and a question (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | more than 2 years ago | (#40102035)

More concerning is the task of keeping it from melting after fifteen days of intense solar radiation and no atmospheric cooling.

The lunar surface only reaches 130 C even though it has an albedo of just 5%. Even the solar panel on the rover will be more reflective that that (about 30% in practice). And the panel would act as a partial solar shield for the rest of the rover, with a high-albedo coating protecting the rest (white in the pics). So nothing is going to actually melt. Thermal contraction during the lunar night is the killer.

"Then will be revealed what was stronger: the merciless lunar night or the valiant Asimov. It will either remain in eternal sleep or embark on another new and exciting day on the moon."

laser range finder (2)

Dr Max (1696200) | more than 2 years ago | (#40097505)

How come they didn't just use a laser range finder to create a 3d map of the terrain around the robot?

Re:laser range finder (1)

Jesse_vd (821123) | more than 2 years ago | (#40097617)

Probably due to the high power requirement

Re:laser range finder (1)

Dr Max (1696200) | more than 2 years ago | (#40097777)

oh yes, you are probably right.

Re:laser range finder (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 2 years ago | (#40097655)

Because a laser range finder fired from Earth has a spot size tens of miles across by the time it reaches the moon, and only a handful of photons from any given pulse make it back to a detector on Earth. And because a satellite in lunar orbit moves too fast to track a given sub-meter (approaching centimeter really) spot on the lunar surface.

Re:laser range finder (2)

BisexualPuppy (914772) | more than 2 years ago | (#40097847)

He was talking about a laser range finder operated by the rover. Wake up !

Re:laser range finder (1)

pnot (96038) | more than 2 years ago | (#40098179)

He was talking about a laser range finder operated by the rover. Wake up !

Then why was he using the past tense? The rover won't even be there till 2014.

Re:laser range finder (1)

Dr Max (1696200) | more than 2 years ago | (#40098879)

But the robot is already built.

Re:laser range finder (1)

pnot (96038) | more than 2 years ago | (#40103561)

But the robot is already built.

But the sentence in question was "How come they didn't just use a laser range finder...". Thus:

1. The use of the range-finder, rather than its installation, is in the past tense.

2. The subject of the sentence is "they" (viz. the researchers), rather than "the robot", implying that it is the researchers themselves who should be operating the instrument.

Re:laser range finder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40098913)

Increase the dosage of your medication.

Re:laser range finder (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#40098979)

He was talking about a laser range finder operated by the rover. Wake up !

Then why was he using the past tense? The rover won't even be there till 2014.

Because the Part-Time Scientists have already designed the rover.

Re:laser range finder (1)

NeverVotedBush (1041088) | more than 2 years ago | (#40100099)

Or he saw a Big Bang Theory episode...

Re:laser range finder (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 2 years ago | (#40097867)

I concur: the power requirements would be prohibitive.

However, after seeing the pictures I am not confident of long life for this vehicle. As Spirit and Opportunity clearly showed, a solar-powered device must include a method of cleaning that solar panel regularly to avoid loss of power. That was one of the biggest problems for Spirit and Opportunity: power loss due to dust accumulation.

I can think of at least several schemes to clean the surface of the solar panels, while still in operation. Depending on the design that could extend the vehicle's lifetime for months.

Re:laser range finder (2)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40097957)

However, after seeing the pictures I am not confident of long life for this vehicle. As Spirit and Opportunity clearly showed, a solar-powered device must include a method of cleaning that solar panel regularly to avoid loss of power. That was one of the biggest problems for Spirit and Opportunity: power loss due to dust accumulation.

What's the mechanism for dust transfer that's going to create a similar problem for this rover? The Moon doesn't have an atmosphere capable of carrying dust and the rover will be traveling pretty slow. That doesn't leave many alternatives for dust accumulation though there are a few. I think the lunar nights (and the resulting thermal issues) will be far more likely to shorten the lifespan of the vehicle.

Re:laser range finder (1)

brunes69 (86786) | more than 2 years ago | (#40098203)

Dust is not going to be a large problem on the moon for the same reasons you stated - the moon has no atmosphere. There is no dust in the air, and this robot is not going to be dancing around like astronauts do, throwing it up all over the place.

Re:laser range finder (2)

khallow (566160) | more than 2 years ago | (#40098385)

Dust does get moved around however. For example, I understand that the transitions from day to night and vice versa create electric fields that push dust around. Micrometeor strikes (and they don't have to be nearby!) can also generate moving dust.

Re:laser range finder (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#40099003)

Relax about the dust. It's only going to be a 90 day mission...

Re:laser range finder (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 2 years ago | (#40102795)

"Relax about the dust. It's only going to be a 90 day mission..."

And so were Spirit and Opportunity.

Re:laser range finder (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 2 years ago | (#40102867)

"Dust is not going to be a large problem on the moon for the same reasons you stated - the moon has no atmosphere."

There may not be any "dust in the wind", as it were, but when it is kicked up, it is kicked WAY up. Lack of atmosphere and low gravity also mean that there is little to impede it when it rises.

Dust was a very major problem during the manned missions. It got onto and into everything. Admittedly, the rover won't be kicking up dust like humans jumping around did, but at the same time, it is going to be there a while, it will be moving around, and it has moving parts. In addition, there could very well be electrostatic attraction.

Re:laser range finder (1)

leuk_he (194174) | more than 2 years ago | (#40098743)

Wouldn't that cause the moon to blow up? 'shooting the moon with a laser?

Re:laser range finder (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 2 years ago | (#40102553)

No, Bugs Bunny would stop you.

Stereo navigation has been done for decades (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40097529)

There's nothing new about this technology. Just the fact that it's on the moon.

It's called SLAM (1)

giampy (592646) | more than 2 years ago | (#40097531)

... Simultaneous Localization and Mapping.

It's called TURD (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40098797)

Terrain Uncovering and Range Detection

4 wheeled rover??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40097565)

Is there any reason why they aren't using the rocker-bogie suspension [wikipedia.org] ? It seems stupid to send a rover to the Moon and then get it stuck. This is especially true since it will be autonomous.

Re:4 wheeled rover??? (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#40099233)

Is there any reason why they aren't using the rocker-bogie suspension [wikipedia.org] ? It seems stupid to send a rover to the Moon and then get it stuck. This is especially true since it will be autonomous.

Um... Spirit had a rocker-bogie system and it got stuck.

I'd rather see them use an Athlete-styled system [wikipedia.org] . Instead of a passive suspension, put the wheels on the ends of powered legs. That way it can roll on its wheels over smooth terrain, and walk around on rough terrain.

Re:4 wheeled rover??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40100009)

I'd rather see them use an Athlete-styled system [wikipedia.org] . Instead of a passive suspension, put the wheels on the ends of powered legs. That way it can roll on its wheels over smooth terrain, and walk around on rough terrain.

It has an active suspension system.

Re:4 wheeled rover??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40101391)

Is there any reason why they aren't using the rocker-bogie suspension [wikipedia.org] ? It seems stupid to send a rover to the Moon and then get it stuck. This is especially true since it will be autonomous.

Um... Spirit had a rocker-bogie system and it got stuck.

I'd rather see them use an Athlete-styled system [wikipedia.org] . Instead of a passive suspension, put the wheels on the ends of powered legs. That way it can roll on its wheels over smooth terrain, and walk around on rough terrain.

Yeah, and how long did that take?

Rocker-bogie adds weight compared to 4 wheels and the ATHLETE system adds even more weight. Weight is the game for rovers. Rocker-bogie is a good compromise since it is extremely difficult to get stuck.

ATHLETE is probably the future of heavy high speed rovers. Rocker-bogie is the present and future of small slow speed rovers.

exploring for the sake of exploring (1, Interesting)

Max_W (812974) | more than 2 years ago | (#40097589)

Why not to build on the moon a large telescope-digital-photo-camera and make the HD images of Earth surface in almost real time?

Not images of space, but images of Earth, of what is interesting and vital to us.

Shooting cloudless areas on Earth constantly and feeding data into digital maps.

I have an impression that moon pass over every piece of land on Earth. But nowadays the satellite images of Earth on digital maps are often obsolete, 4 - 5 years old, especially for small towns and villages.

There will be no cost of stabilizing an artificial satellite.

Re:exploring for the sake of exploring (1)

harley78 (746436) | more than 2 years ago | (#40097643)

You should watch the movie "What about Bob".

Re:exploring for the sake of exploring (1)

Max_W (812974) | more than 2 years ago | (#40097775)

Privacy issues should be addressed, I agree. But there is definitely a value in having precise maps. For example, reliable navigation devices can reduce global gas consumption significantly.

Re:exploring for the sake of exploring (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#40097889)

Wouldn't get an image over the poles, but who needs those? Still not practical: The moon is a long way up. Low earth orbit is not. To get the same image from the moon as an LEO sat would require ridiculously large and delicate optics. Worse, got to get to the moon. LEO is easy, but moon would need more powerful, not-mass-produced rockets. Then you've got to put the thing together - no way that an instrument that large is landing in one piece, so you need either telepresence robots or a manned mission to bolt it all together.

Re:exploring for the sake of exploring (1)

Max_W (812974) | more than 2 years ago | (#40097985)

But the moon surface is rock stable. That is why photographers use tripods to avoid camera jittering.

The issues of tiny meteors could be solved by automatically changeable upper protection glass over the lenses. Photographers also use them to protect expensive lenses from an accidental damage.

Practically it would mean delivering to the moon surface large tilt & pan camera with a huge telescopic lenses, a box. And also sort of a large WiFi router with antennas. Difficult, but doable.

This camera can work 24/7, as this side of the moon always faces the Earth. An AI application can select areas free from clouds and fog and shoot HD images constantly, directly in the map panels image format, which could be automatically transmitted and feed into the digital map.

Difficult, expensive, but useful and still better than spending billions on exploring black holes.

Re:exploring for the sake of exploring (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40098107)

I think that if you're in orbit, then you're also pretty stable and facing the earth 24/7?

Re:exploring for the sake of exploring (3, Informative)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#40098135)

But the moon surface is rock stable.

I guess you've never heard of moon quakes [nasa.gov] . Rock stable my ass. Consider this the new thing you learned today.

Re:exploring for the sake of exploring (1)

Max_W (812974) | more than 2 years ago | (#40098249)

OK. 6 moon quakes per year for the whole moon. It does not mean 6 moon quakes per year at a given spot. A quake affects a particular area, the same as on earth.

Following this logic the Earth surface is unstable too, still the photographers do place tripod on the earth surface to get the photo-camera stable. No electronic stabilizer can compete with a tripod.

Plus on the moon there is no wind. On Earth one has to use a special tripod to get camera stable in windy conditions.

Re:exploring for the sake of exploring (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 2 years ago | (#40098161)

But the moon surface is rock stable. That is why photographers use tripods to avoid camera jittering.

An orbiting satellite is also extremely stable, while it's in motion it is also silky smooth only affected by gravity and an extremely light atmospheric drag. A typical LEO satellite travels 800km above the surface, the moon is 350-400,000 km away. That's about 500 times greater magnification needed. Also a LEO satellite typically makes a polar orbit in 90 minutes, sweeping the earth in bands faster than a moon-based telescope waiting for the earth to turn. Already there are commercial satellites with a 0.5m resolution available for civilians and if you asked the military to open up their data you'd have even better resolution.

In short, you're trying to solve a problem that's already solved cheaper, faster and better by LEO satellites. And the more we work on atmospheric correction and filtering out earth based noise, the less relevant the Moon looks as projects like the E-ELT [wikipedia.org] and SKA [wikipedia.org] are better done from the ground. Where we still need to go into space is the wavelengths were the atmosphere is blocking us completely, but even then it's a question of whether it's easier to lave it in space rather than land it on the moon. There's just not that many advantages of being "grounded" to a big rock.

Re:exploring for the sake of exploring (1)

Max_W (812974) | more than 2 years ago | (#40098209)

In short, you're trying to solve a problem that's already solved

I nearly believed. But than I opened in GoogleMaps at a place where for almost 5 years there is a huge building, and the map still shows a meadow. The current images are often obsolete. Looked at another place, still no satellite map update for years.

My vision is the large station with ndustrial scale telescope-digital-camera equipment, an international effort. And a sort of WiFi router so that anyone can log-in and use real time images of the Earth for their applications.

If this station uses a supercomputer than it can produce millions and millions of images per day. It would be another world.

A flying satellite needs fuel to stay in orbit. The moon does not.

Re:exploring for the sake of exploring (1)

Herve5 (879674) | more than 2 years ago | (#40098891)

GoogleMaps images are obsolete because Google doesn't *buy* recent images, that are for sale and not for free. But indeed they are available...
(In some countries the national geographic agency indeed provides them; for instance in France you generally can get more accurate images through the national geographic institute's portal than through Google, but this is national alone...)

Re:exploring for the sake of exploring (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40099085)

In short, you're trying to solve a problem that's already solved

I nearly believed. But than I opened in GoogleMaps at a place where for almost 5 years there is a huge building, and the map still shows a meadow. The current images are often obsolete. Looked at another place, still no satellite map update for years.

Yes, because nobody cares enough to pay for more frequent updates for a free site -- not because we can't do it much cheaper than we could place a ginormous* telescope on the moon. In fact, much more up-to-date imagery is available commercially -- but you gotta spend money to get it.

*ginormous: if you'd settle for even 10m resolution, you'd need an incredible 20m aperture. (For comparison, the largest optical telescope on Earth has ~12m effective aperture, and the James Webb space telescope is to have a 6.5m aperture.) For mapping, you really need more like 2m resolution, since roads can be as narrow as ~5m, requiring about 100m aperture. And if, as you suggest, you want to get mapping-quality images from anywhere on the disk, foreshortening requires ever higher resolution as you approach the limb.

My vision is the large station with ndustrial scale telescope-digital-camera equipment, an international effort.

Nobody cares about you and other freeloaders enough to do a much cheaper collection of the same imagery from LEO and release it for free (i.e. the "ndustrial scale" operations are reserved for industry) -- do you think international interest in paying for your free map fix will go up because you've found a more expensive solution?

Conversely (and assuming for argument's sake that the imagery you want isn't perfectly possible (and already being collected) from LEO), suppose such a telescope were installed on the moon -- why would you expect it to be undertaken at public expense and with results offered for free, when it serves no particular interest of the involved governments (there's little or no scientific knowledge gained by another day's updated images, and all governments who could appreciably contribute already have spy satellites), and provides images of definite value to corporate and (other, non-spacefaring) military interests?

And a sort of WiFi router so that anyone can log-in and use real time images of the Earth for their applications.

This is /. -- you're not talking to housewives and CEOs, so there's no need to dumb it down. If you say "WiFi router" here, we're going to assume it's because you actually mean "WiFi router". Ergo, we will laugh quite hard at you.

If this station uses a supercomputer than it can produce millions and millions of images per day. It would be another world.

Supercomputers don't take pictures. Cameras take pictures. You want millions of pictures per day, get a camera shooting 10s of frames per second. (You already need a gigantic aperture to accomplish the imaging -- now you need it even bigger to get your exposures down...)

The computing power needed to transfer them to Earth as a continuous stream on a single frequency is minimal. Now if you're locked into the idea of running a fricking server with 2500ms ping from everywhere, you'll need a SAN and a decent server, but still nothing like a supercomputer (or the more likely candidate, a cluster of servers) -- because anyone actually using the images will use a cache/mirror on Earth to avoid insane latencies, so there'll still only be one or a few fetches per image over your Loonie WiFi link. ...which is why you'd leave the SAN and server cluster on Earth, and broadcast the images to Earth on a single frequency, which still lets anyone (with a rather sensitive radio receiver plugged into their PC) receive all images as they are taken (images would also be retransmitted, say, 8 hours and 16 hours later, so a single station can catch images from every longitude), without the silliness of making sure anyone (with a EME-bounce capable ham rig on whatever WiFi frequencies you use) can "log-in" to the moon and fetch an image, (or DoS the moonbase for lulz).

A flying satellite needs fuel to stay in orbit. The moon does not.

Put the satellite in MEO, deterioration due to atmospherics is negligible. But of course you use so much fuel getting up there, that it would be cheaper to stay in LEO and use it for station-keeping.

Getting to the moon requires such insane quantities of fuel (make that insane^2 since you're putting an insanely large telescope there) that it's simply laughable for you to mention the pittance needed for a LEO satellite.

Re:exploring for the sake of exploring (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#40099463)

Your problem is not the location of the camera, but the "freshness" of the data. Google maps never uses up to the minute images, even on street view. If you want more up to date satellite views, you can get that from numerous providers. A ridiculously expensive lunar telescope with a wireless tech that can't even send a signal half a mile is not going to solve your problem.

Re:exploring for the sake of exploring (1)

Max_W (812974) | more than 2 years ago | (#40099657)

A robot shall not necessarily have wheels or legs. Such an Earth telescope-digital-camera could also be a sort of a robot.

We pay by the tax money for the International Space Station, for the Space Telescopes, etc., but why not to build instead on the moon the earth imaging station.

Certainly it should be a WiFi with en extended range, but the point is the real-time HD Earth images available via API to all, for free, for the money, which we paid already, so that astronauts can make pirouettes inside the ISS. But why instead not to build something useful?

The best way to learn and explore is to do something practical and useful. It should be the solution of abundance. Abundance of free up-to-date HD earth images.

Re:exploring for the sake of exploring (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40099901)

BUT IT'S NOT USEFUL! If you want abundant taxpayer-funded "HD" Earth images, LOBBY CONGRESS FOR A LEO MAPPING SATELLITE.

The only reasons to drop your pet 100m optical telescope-camera-HD-robot on the moon (to learn and explore) are the reasons JFK gave in his speech at Rice for the moon program...

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

And as observed in the title-text of the obligatory xkcd [xkcd.com] , those arguments work equally well "for blowing up the moon, sending cloned dinosaurs into space, or constructing a towering penis-shaped obelisk on Mars." Your claim to usefulness is on the order of a Rube Goldberg comic -- sure, there's a useful result there, but it's hard to imagine a more expensive process to get that result, and there's an obvious, much cheaper way.

At least a phallus on Mars would be entertaining, which is more than I can say for your moonbattery.

Re:exploring for the sake of exploring (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 2 years ago | (#40100887)

Reasons this is a stupid idea:
The moon is a thousand times farther away than reconnaissance satellites orbit, so the camera needs to be a million times bigger to get the same image (inverse square law).
It costs $10,000 per kg to get stuff into orbit. It costs about $100,000 per kg to get stuff to the moon (based on adjusted Apollo launch costs). So your moon telescope is going to cost TEN MILLION TIMES as much as a single recon satellite.
WiFi is for short range communications. If you had a transmitter on the moon capable of reaching the typical laptop on Earth, it would drown out all other WiFi hotspots on the planet. It is simply the wrong radio technology for what you are trying to do.

Note:
The folks on board the ISS are risking their lives doing serious science. It is highly offensive to intimate that they are up there simply horsing around in zero G.
The US military has a lot bigger budget for space than NASA does. It performs more launches and has more satellites than NASA does. Furthermore, these satellites are exactly the ones you want for your HD earth viewing project. So don't tee off on NASA. It's the US military that you want.

Re:exploring for the sake of exploring (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40098165)

You have no sense of scale.

Nobody has ever made a "huge telescopic lens" big enough to image "useful" resolutions (for mapping purposes) from the Moon, and there's no conceivable reason anyone would. A liquid-mirror telescope might work, but every possible goal you've put forth can be done better and cheaper from MEO.

Re:exploring for the sake of exploring (1)

taiwanjohn (103839) | more than 2 years ago | (#40099287)

Actually, Moon Express is doing something along those lines [discovery.com] in their GLXP mission. It won't be dedicated to Earth observations, but it will be a telescope on the moon, which will still be pretty cool.

Laws (1)

Smivs (1197859) | more than 2 years ago | (#40097811)

Yes, but will it observe the Three Laws of Robotics?

Re:Laws (1)

michelcolman (1208008) | more than 2 years ago | (#40098093)

Apart from the third law, very likely given the rather low number of people on the moon. Unless it somehow figures out how to build weapons to attack earth.

Re:Laws (1)

Brannoncyll (894648) | more than 2 years ago | (#40100147)

Apart from the third law, very likely given the rather low number of people on the moon. Unless it somehow figures out how to build weapons to attack earth.

2000 years in the future a Centauri remote probe skims over the cracked and baked desolation of what was once believed to be the home planet of an advanced humanoid species. A dark cavern proves to be the entrance to what might once have been an underground data storage site. A ruined sign hangs on the wall; 'GOOGLE' it says in alien pictograms. Scanning the rubble the probe locates a partial fragment of a data storage device.

Years later the signal reaches Proxima Centauri, and a group of the Emperor's best scientists begin to decode the fragment.

[PARTIAL DATA FRAGMENT RECEIVED FROM 61-F32 PLANET III] Apart from the third law, very likely given the rather low number of people on the moon. Unless it somehow figures out how to build weapons to attack...........[FRAGMENT CORRUPTED]

The scientists look around at each other, panic in their eyes: They too had not taken appropriate safeguards...

(A scattering of lights move across the heavens of Proxima IV. Only the emperor and his [incarcerated] scientists know that this is the end of their race.)

how fast do you NEED to move? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40098471)

the current MER software allows faster moving than the "launch load" written back in 2003.

however, how fast do you need to move? The MER rovers have a maximum speed of about 5cm/sec, due to motor power limits. How far do you really need to go in a day? Do you need to cover multiple km in a short time, or can you just lollygag along, and get there when you get there. MER has basically the same motors as Sojourner did.

Moving fast costs resources: power, mass, volume. You need bigger motors, bigger drive electronics, faster vision processing, etc. You have to have more radiating surface to reject the heat form motors and motor drive electronics. All that costs mass and volume. What are you going to give up in terms of science instruments or other functions to move faster? Do you get more value from driving farther, or having more instruments, perhaps with more capability?

there are also some other practical problems. Does that GPU handle radiation? Upsets aren't a big deal, you can just rerun the calculations, and the upset rate on the moon will be pretty low. But does it have issues with latchup or total dose?

What about lunar dust? Run faster, and you throw more dust into the "air" (it's a vacuum of course) (ever seen the video of the previous Lunar rover?). the dust is electrostatically charged, and may stick to the rover, reducing the output of the solar panels. Do you just size them bigger to compensate, or do you spend the mass on some sort of cleaning scheme.

There's a lot more to rover design than just finding better nav algorithms.

Re:how fast do you NEED to move? (1)

c0lo (1497653) | more than 2 years ago | (#40098649)

What about lunar dust? Run faster, and you throw more dust into the "air" (it's a vacuum of course) (ever seen the video of the previous Lunar rover?). the dust is electrostatically charged, and may stick to the rover, reducing the output of the solar panels.

Actually, dust is what killed the soviet rover [wikipedia.org] .

Re:how fast do you NEED to move? (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#40099527)

Good points. Unless the mission requirements include covering a certain area in a certain time (funding run out, for example), who needs speed?

Just one thing: Stay out of the left lane, grandpa.

Re:how fast do you NEED to move? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40100123)

the current MER software allows faster moving than the "launch load" written back in 2003.

however, how fast do you need to move? The MER rovers have a maximum speed of about 5cm/sec, due to motor power limits. How far do you really need to go in a day? Do you need to cover multiple km in a short time, or can you just lollygag along, and get there when you get there. MER has basically the same motors as Sojourner did.

There's a bonus prize for making 5km. So I guess they need to move faster.

It "boosts" a stereo camera? (1)

wcrowe (94389) | more than 2 years ago | (#40098867)

You mean they stole it from somewhere?

Scientists or Engineers? (2)

Theovon (109752) | more than 2 years ago | (#40099879)

It always bugs me how people seem to often use the term Scientist for someone who is actually doing Engineering. There's no shame in engineering. I'm an engineer, and engineering is no trivial job. But as I understand it, it is the scientists that figure out how the world works, and the engineers use that knowledge to design new things. Both require serious insightfulness and creativity.

Like in Venture Brothers, Rusty Venture calls himself a "super scientist." Indeed if this were reality, he would have to do a heck of a lot of science. But in fact, the majority of what he does is engineering, building huge mechanical whatzits and stuff.

Why do scientists get all the credit?

(P.S. I think technically I'm a scientist also, because I have a Ph.D. (optional) and conduct and publish research. But I don't think I'm as good a scientst as many of my colleagues. What makes me competitive is that I have very strong engineering skills, which makes my experimental systems and experiments more robust.)

Re:Scientists or Engineers? (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | more than 2 years ago | (#40102281)

Germany may have laws about who can call themselves an engineer, but not about who can call themselves a scientist. Ie, a profession vs a vocation.

Re:Scientists or Engineers? (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | more than 2 years ago | (#40102519)

[addendum]

I think technically I'm a scientist also, because I have a Ph.D. (optional) and conduct and publish research.

Judging by this and some of the other comments in this post... For example:

You can't be a scientist just part-time. You either are a scientist or not, it's not about how much you "do" it, it's about formal education

...there seems to be a 180 degree reversal in how Americans think about scientists vs engineers and the rest of the world.

In the US, a "scientist" is someone who is suitably degreed and formally published. While an "engineer" can be anything from a professional to a backyard tinkerer. Whereas in most/all other countries, an "engineer" is a highly regulated profession with minimum tertiary qualifications, while a "scientist" is just anyone who "does science", from professionals to the least-qualified hobbyist.

So in Germany, "Part-time scientists" would be like an American group called "After-hours engineers".

Moonba? (1)

garyzim (2576499) | more than 2 years ago | (#40099947)

"The technology boosts a stereo camera that Asimov will use to calculate its own motion, generate a 2.5-dimensional environmental model, evaluate the site and determine a collision-free path — all in real time." So what they're saying is they are putting a large robot vacuum cleaner on the lunar surface... Neato! It's about time that space tech catches up with home tech.

2.5 dimensions? (1)

Brannoncyll (894648) | more than 2 years ago | (#40099967)

As a physicist I am familiar with fractional dimensions in dimensional regularization [wikipedia.org] (a process whereby infinities in Feynman diagrams are tamed by reducing the number of space-time dimension by a small fraction), however I have never heard of applying such advanced theoretical concepts to an environmental model. Bravo!

Name?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40100093)

Hope they name it WallE. :)

stupid idea (1)

Luyseyal (3154) | more than 2 years ago | (#40100441)

OK, so here's my incredibly stupid idea.

If you had access to a weather balloon, how much rocket would you need to eject an extremely small rover (RC car sized) out of Earth orbit onto an eventual moon landing?

Imagine the tiny rover is in a bouncy shell thing that will unfurl when it lands. Imagine you only care that the rover lands in under 5 years.

Call it a semipro moon bounce. Is this at all feasible?
-l

Re:stupid idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40100703)

OK, so here's my incredibly stupid idea.

If you had access to a weather balloon, how much rocket would you need to eject an extremely small rover (RC car sized) out of Earth orbit onto an eventual moon landing?

Imagine the tiny rover is in a bouncy shell thing that will unfurl when it lands. Imagine you only care that the rover lands in under 5 years.

Call it a semipro moon bounce. Is this at all feasible?
-l

That idea is called rockoon and it's not quite new: The Part-Time Scientists have thought about it already [ptscientists.com] . You would also have to consider that if you are up there you still need to gain speed to reach the escape velocity of earth. That's 11.2km/s [wikipedia.org] . Quite fast. Faster than the ISS, which is moving at around ~7km/s.

Re:stupid idea (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | more than 2 years ago | (#40102359)

Further to the AC's comment, you'd also be hitting the moon at several km/s. Your bouncy shell would merely add a thin layer to the moon's surface.

Ghost of Audrey? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40102949)

Am I the only one who read "Scientists Aim To Build Autonomous Moon River"?

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