A Roadmap for the Robotic Facilitation of Off-World Living

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A. Smith et al. (2020), JBIS, 73, pp.97-102

Refcode: 2020.73.97
Keywords: Robotics, Lunar Exploration, Systems, EVA

A future human presence on the Moon or Mars will depend upon both robotic preparation and robotic facilitation. NASA, China, Russia (then Soviet Union) and, soon, ESA have operated remote vehicles on one or other of these bodies. While semi-autonomous rovers are an established technology, their capability remains extremely limited when considering the nature of the tasks, (including mining capabilities), that will be required in association with a semi-permanent human presence. The surface of the Moon or of Mars will, for the foreseeable future, be a very hostile environment: vacuum or near vacuum pressures; large temperature differences; high radiation levels; high dust levels; and unknown unknowns. For this reason, it is likely that humans will wish to minimize exposure to the external environment, preferring rather to live within the relative safety of purpose built structures, possibly beneath the surface. Building structures ‘by hand’ is likely to pose too high a risk and so humans will call upon robots to prepare the site, fabricate, manipulate, assemble, integrate and test. This is likely to be more than merely 3-D printing of structures but would also include maintenance, repair and the flexibility to deal with unexpected developments. During the preparatory phase, it may be that just a minimal human presence on the Moon is needed and the remote control of robots from the Earth may be more effective, less risky, and a great deal less stressful. Here we take a systems approach, exploring first a set of high level capability requirements and then considering a ConOps (Concept of Operations) trade for those necessary activities that could be performed off- Moon. This is within the context of the planned return to the Moon using the Gateway platform and through international cooperation. Such considerations will be needed to inform a coherent and extendable roadmap for the exploration of the Moon and Mars.

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