Long Endurance Rovers

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long endurance robotic lunar rovers and manipulators

On most of Luna a roving robot explorer must either be made to endure 354 hour days followed by 354 hour nights or be considered a disposable rover. If we can not build things to continue operating a few years at a stretch on Luna, we might as well forget about a lunar base.

Thermal Management

The Apollo astronauts used liquid oxygen evaporative cooling for thermal management. We do not want to use up oxygen at that rate for years for robot explorers. Especially we do not want to waste oxygen before an oxygen extraction plant is operational. There is another way. At the equatorial region a wall could be set up running east and west and inclined away from the nearest pole by an angle equal to the latitude. The top of such a wall can be covered with reflective aluminum and that is the only part of the wall that the sun strikes. A trough shaped aluminum parabolic reflector can be built to shield the wall from the surrounding hot lunar landscape such that in cross section the reflector would have the shape of the curve that graphically represents y=x^2 over the range of x=0.7, y=0.49 to x=-0.7, y=0.49 while the cross section of the wall would be represented by the line segment from x=0, y=0 to x=0 y=0.2. Sunlight that strikes the inside of such a trough will be focused above the wall and return to space. The wall can house a radiator shaped and coated for high emissivity. This radiator would be effectively shaded from sun and hot lunar terrain and radiate to the cold of space. By circulating a solution of water and ethylene glycol through this radiator cooling can be provided for sensitive equipment without throwing out any mass of evaporated liquid. Shrink this concept so that it can be carried by a rover and the rover should survive the day.

Staying All Night

At night an insulative cover can be pulled over the radiator. Sintered brick shelters can be built for spending the night and pumped storage of high pressure oxygen can run electric generators at night. Until these things can be available a radio thermal generator can provide heat and power during the night.

Micrometeoroid Protection

Micrometeoroids can be ignored until one strikes the radiator. The smallest of leaks would be extremely expensive even if the radiator were compartmentalized to allow one section to loose fluid while the rest of the radiator remains intact. The design should allow a leaking section to be isolated and pumped dry. The location of a leak would be sensed by the decrease of pressure in the leaking section. Beyond this the radiator can be removed from the micrometeoroid threat without too much reducing its effectiveness. Go back to the shape in cross section of the protective parabolic trough. Throw half the parabolic trough away and we are left with the cross section represented by y=x^2 over the range from x=0, y=0 to x=0.7, y=0.49. Replace the left side of the parabolic trough with an aluminum foil box represented in cross section by the line segments x=0, y=0 to x=-0.2, y=0; x=-0.2, y=0 to x=-0.2, y=0.2; and x=-0.2, y=0.2 to x=0, y=0.2. Put the radiator in this box just to the right of the side represented by x=-0.2, y=0 to x=-0.2, y=0.2 and there is no strait line path from the radiator to the sky, but because of aluminum's reflectivity the heat radiated mostly reaches the black sky. Now make the aluminum foil trough and box double thickness with an inch of space between to make an effective micrometeoroid shield. So the radiator is shaded from the hot sun, shaded from the hot terrain and protected from micrometeoroids while still radiating reasonably well to cold space.

Costs and Benefits

These design considerations certainly complicate the making of a lunar vehicle, but producing a device that will operate five or more years and potentially be repairable should be about 130 times as valuable as one that only works two weeks before turning into a piece of scrap. The least necessary of these design features is the micrometeoroid protective shields. The cost of this feature includes the cost of a somewhat larger radiator. The cost must be ballanced against the risk. Merely isolating damaged sections may be most cost effective.

Predicting Possible Futures

There is an article entitled Show Stoppers that also deals with thermal management. As shown above, thermal management is not a show stopper. As can be shown point by point, there are no true show stoppers listed in the above article. The people of the United States have choices before them. We can cooperate with other nations in the economic development of Luna at a rate that really cannot be hurried in any reasonable way. We can abandon the development to other nations and a hundred years from now we will be buying communications and space based solar power from others. This is a long time frame for polititions to deal with. It is tempting to just deal with immediate problems and let them soak up the relatively small amount that can pay for developing lunar resources at a reasonable rate. Polititions in the United States must follow the people or be out of work. There is time to reach the people. Nothing will happen overnight on Luna.