nlhouser writes: "How would it feel to be paid a huge pile of money to move a huge pile of simulated moon soil by using an autonomously operating system? Teams from Rancho Palos Verdes, California; Livermore, California; Berkeley, California; Fulks Run, Virginia; Rolla, MO; Berkley, Michigan, Milwaukee; Vancouver and British Columbia, have all registered to find out.
The Regolith Excavation Challenge on May 12, 2007, will pay a team to excavate and deliver as much dirt as possible in 30 minutes — administered by the California Space Education and Workforce Institute, part of the California Space Authority in Santa Maria, California. This is one of seven challenges by NASA, and must use less than 30 W of power, while weighing less than 40k and excavate more than 150 kg of the required simulated moon dirt. This challenge is extremely important, as it is the first necessary step toward uncovering what is considered important in the moon's resources in the most economical and quickest way possible.
Entitled the NASA's "2007 Regolith Excavation Centennial Challenge Overview", the challenge will be in a specific "head to head" competition format:
Each team's excavation system must be fully autonomous
Systems will perform in a square sandbox with compressed lunar regolith simulant
Mass of the system cannot exceed 40 kilograms
30 Watts of DC power will be provided to the system
Each system will have 30 minutes to excavate as much regolith as possible and deliver it to the fixed collector adjacent to the sandbox
The total purse of $250,000 will go to the winning teams excavating the most regolith above 150 kilograms
Where proposals were the original solution to ongoing NASA programs, recently it was found that "making awards based on actual achievements" resulted in novel and lower-cost solutions. The end challenge to this particular competition is the actual moon atmosphere. Resistance to penetration and blocking properties are due to the planet's exposure to the space environment — not because of the traditional influences of water, wind, or volcanic processes, as on Earth.
According to NASA and the Centennial Challenge program, additional challenges are the lunar regolith's properties of weight, power, and time limitations from interplanetary travel. At this time, the lunar excavation requirements are unmet by any of the challenging teams for excavation technologies that are developed for any terrestrial use as they are still heavy, using lots of power, and still require a human operator. What is still needed is something lighter, more power efficient, while still being able to operate autonomously — all will be needed when excavating the real moon dirt in the near future."
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