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NASA engineers are creating a transportation network to the moon


NASA has announced plans to develop the first lunar railway system designed to provide autonomous cargo transportation on the moon. The announcement was made on NASA’s blog and it was emphasized that this robotic transportation system will play a key role in the daily operations of the long-term lunar base planned for the 2030s.


The rail system is part of the Moon to Mars program and mission concepts such as Robotic Lunar Surface Operations 2 (RLSO2).

The lunar railway system, called FLOAT (Flexible Levitation on Tracked Surface), was designed to meet transportation needs on the Moon. It will mainly be used to transport regolith mined for in situ resource utilization (ISRU) such as water (H2O), liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquid hydrogen (LH2). Additionally, it will facilitate the movement of cargo around the lunar base and on the outskirts of pollution zones or other outposts.

The FLOAT system will operate using robotic mechanisms on a magnetic pad suspended on a three-layer flexible rail. It will have a graphite layer for magnetic levitation and a layer for generating electromagnetic traction that enables the robots to move along “pathways.” There will also be an additional layer of thin-film solar panels to generate electricity when exposed to sunlight. The absence of moving parts in the FLOAT system will reduce wear from lunar dust.

In the second phase of this project, NASA plans to continue de-risking the production, distribution, and long-term use of meter-scale robots and kilometer-scale transportation routes that will help support human exploration on the Moon.

This phase will include the design, fabrication and testing of a series of miniature prototypes with a demonstration on a test bench simulating the lunar surface. It also includes investigating the impact of the environment on the performance and durability of the system.

FLOAT will be deployed directly above the lunar regolith, avoiding large-scale in-situ construction. It will help transport up to hundreds of thousands of kilograms of regolith and cargo over a distance of several kilometers per day. The concept of this lunar rail system was proposed in 2021 as part of the Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

Source: Port Altele

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