Robot to shave the Moon's surface in hunt for water

Standing at just over two feet tall it may not look like a big deal, but this is the robot NASA hopes will be able to extract water from the Moon.

NASA's Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot
NASA's Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot Credit: NASA

The robot has special arms designed to skim lunar soil from which water and ice can be extracted. It could even use the chemicals to make fuel.

Called 'Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot' or RASSOR for short, one of the biggest design challenges was to make it light and small enough to fly on a rocket, but heavy enough to operate in gravity lower than that of Earth.

RASSOR would need to operate for around 5 years
RASSOR would need to operate for around 5 years Credit: NASA

It's still only a prototype, and not ready to be propelled into Space just yet. But if it does get there, it means astronauts will be able to sustain themselves during missions.

Producing both water and fuel from the soil would also cut the huge expense of launching the supplies from Earth, as 90% of a rocket's mass normally consists of propellant.

  • RASSOR would need to operate about 16 hours a day for five years
  • It would drive five times faster than the Mars Curiosity rover's top speed of 4 centimetres per second
  • It would shave the Moon's surface with a pair of rotating drums and return to the resource processing plant with some 40 pounds of lunar soil for processing

This has been kind of the dream, the mission they gear this around. There are some areas at the poles where they think there's a lot of ice, so you'd be digging in ice. There's other areas where the water is actually 30 centimetres down so you actually have to dig down 30 centimetres and take off the top and that depth is really where you want to start collecting water ice.

– RASSOR engineering team

A large area has been cleared in part of the engineers' workshop to make room for some imitation lunar soil to allow the robot to be tested in material close to what it will face on the moon.