2008 – Robotic moon excavation teams competed again for the NASA Technology Prize at NASA’s Regolith Excavation Challenge (Aug. 2-3, 2008) on the campus of the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, as no teams qualified in year 1 (2007). This time, instead of a stationary, deployed design, the rules required teams to build a roving excavator that can autonomously navigate, excavate, and transfer the simulated lunar regolith, or lunar soil, into a collector bin.
NASA was looking for new ideas for excavation techniques that do not require excessively heavy machines or large amounts of power. Excavating lunar regolith is envisioned to be an important part of any construction projects or processing of natural resources on the moon.
Twenty-five teams registered for the 2008 event. Most of the teams are from the private sector, including some from the toy and information technology industries. Four of the teams were affiliated with universities. The prize program, known as Centennial Challenges, began in 2005 in recognition of the centennial of powered flight. In keeping with the spirit of the Wright Brothers and other American innovators, the Centennial Challenge prizes are offered to independent inventors who work without government support, including small businesses, student groups and individuals.
The Regolith Excavation Challenge was one of seven NASA technology prize competitions. The competitions are targeted at a range of technical challenges that support NASA’s missions in aeronautics and space. The goal is to encourage novel solutions from non-traditional sources. NASA’s Innovative Partnerships Program Office in Washington manages the program.
Terra Engineering’s entry in year 2 was Big Freewheeling Digger 2. At first it was going to incorporate a modified version of BFD 1’s rotating drum cutter, with four wheel drive and four wheel steering added to make it a rover. Autonomy was enabled through the use of a LADAR.
A video showing the cutting in process (while still in development) can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCKS-kQclL0