New CSIRO lunar test bed helps robots learn to walk on the Moon

Astronauts on the Apollo program saw firsthand the challenges of working on the moon. One of these challenges was the fine sanding dust that covered their spacesuits and instruments. CSIRO’s new In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) Facility includes a sealed dust area to safely handle and manage various types of lunar regolith simulant – manufactured lunar dust – with properties like those on the lunar surface.

The facility also includes smaller tanks and pits for smaller tests and a mission control room for remote monitoring of rovers, payloads and related equipment. “We look forward to working with researchers and companies from across the space sector to test their technologies and systems for future space missions.”

“This facility is the latest example of our commitment to driving innovation, empowering industry, and solving the greatest challenges through space science, technology and exploration. Several international space agencies and companies are planning new missions to the lunar surface to identify materials that could support further exploration and potential settlement.

“Our ability to simulate the lunar terrain on this scale is an exciting advancement in the development of space technology in Australia,” said Dr. Clayfield. Dr. Kimberley Clayfield, director of the CSIRO space program, said the facility would be an excellent addition to the facilities managed by CSIRO and will complement CSIRO’s space research and the activities of the Australian space sector.

“We know regolith will contain useful materials like oxygen that could be used as fuel or breathable air, but we need to identify these elements first and develop ways to extract and process them,” said Dr. Ralston. CSIRO ISRU project manager Dr. Jonathon Ralston stated that the lunar regolith is both the solution and one of the greatest challenges for these robotic missions.

The facility is located in CSIRO’s Queensland Center for Advanced Technologies, which is home to other testing facilities, including the robotics playground where CSIRO’s robotics team trained for their silver medal in the recent DARPA Subterranean Challenge. “The challenge is that the moondust is powdery, sharp, and electrostatically charged so that it sticks to anything and can damage the technology that was sent to investigate it. “Our facility gives technology developers the opportunity to test their devices in a safer environment closer to home to find solutions to this dusty problem.”

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