After decades of designing and operating robots full of scientific gear to study other worlds, NASA is working on a prototype that leaves the delicate instruments at home in exchange for a sturdy pair of diggers and the reliability and strength to work all day, every day for years.
Dubbed RASSOR, for Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot and pronounced "razor," the autonomous machine is far from space-ready, but the earliest design has shown engineers the broad strokes of what their lunar soil excavator needs in order to operate reliably.
The RASSOR looks like a small tank chassis with a drum at either end, each attached with arms. The drums are perhaps the robot's most innovative feature. Because they are mounted on moving arms, they can act almost as legs letting the robot step and climb over obstacles.
The robot is designed to skim lunar soil and dump it into a device that would pull water and ice out of the dirt and turn their chemicals into rocket fuel or breathing air for astronauts working on the surface. The device would be part of the lander that carries the RASSOR to the moon's surface. So the robot would be the feeder for a lunar resource processing plant, a level of industry never before tried anywhere besides Earth.
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