NASA's Lunar Railroad: A Leap Forward in Space Exploration

By Ivan PetrenkoMay 14, 2024 22:30 PMNews
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NASA's robotic lunar transportation system with astronauts and Earth in the background
NASA's robotic lunar transportation system with astronauts and Earth in the background. Source: dall-e

The American space agency NASA recently unveiled plans to develop a groundbreaking "robotic transportation system" on the moon's surface. This initiative is part of NASA's ambitious Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972. The agency has set a target landing date for September 2026 to commence astronaut operations on the lunar surface.

NASA's proposed lunar railroad system, known as "Flexible Levitation On Tracks" or FLOAT, is designed to play a crucial role in the daily operations on the moon. It intends to facilitate the transportation of lunar soil and other materials across different sectors of the moon, supporting both astronaut activities and scientific experiments.

The agency's vision extends beyond mere transportation. NASA plans to establish a long-term lunar base potentially by the 2030s, which could also serve as a launchpad for future Mars missions. The base would enable astronauts to conduct extensive research and scientific work.

Last month, NASA also announced its efforts towards developing and testing new vehicle models tailored for lunar exploration. FLOAT represents a significant step forward in these efforts, as it utilizes magnetic levitation technology—a concept widely used in constructing high-speed rail systems on Earth.

According to NASA, the FLOAT system is essential for efficient transport in regions of the moon where astronauts are active. It would include cargo delivery services for materials like regolith, a type of lunar soil that could be used to extract substances such as water or gaseous forms of oxygen and hydrogen, crucial for sustaining astronaut activities on the moon.

The FLOAT system is currently under development by engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California. Its design features flat magnetic panels, known as robots, which glide or hover above a flat railroad line or track without moving parts or electric drives, propelled instead by electromagnetic energy.

NASA's plans indicate that the railroad paths can be laid directly on the lunar surface, avoiding the need for complex, permanent structures and allowing for route adjustments as necessary. A smaller version of the FLOAT system could enable robots to transport up to 30 kilograms at speeds of about 0.5 meters per second. Plans for a larger system could allow for transporting up to 100,000 kilograms of regolith, facilitating several kilometers of travel per day.

Currently, the agency is focused on developing and testing various components of the FLOAT system, which has received significant financial support to continue its development as part of NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

This ambitious project represents a major advancement in space exploration, potentially revolutionizing how operations are conducted on the lunar surface and setting the stage for further exploration of Mars and beyond.

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