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Moon Robotics Space Science News

Japan Plans Moon Base Built By Robots For Robots 253

An anonymous reader writes "The Japanese space agency, JAXA, has plans to build a base on the Moon by 2020. Not for humans, but for robots — and built by robots, too. A panel authorized by Japan's prime minister has drawn up preliminary plans for how humanoid and rover robots will begin surveying the moon by 2015, and then begin construction of a base near the south pole of the moon. The robots and the base will run on solar power, with total costs about $2.2 billion USD, according to the panel chaired by Waseda University President Katsuhiko Shirai. 'As currently envisioned, the robots that will land on the lunar surface in 2015 will be 660-pound behemoths equipped with rolling tank-like treads, solar panels, seismographs, high-def cameras, and a smattering of scientific instruments. They'll also have human-like arms for collecting rock samples that will be returned to Earth via rocket.'"
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Japan Plans Moon Base Built By Robots For Robots

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  • by toppavak ( 943659 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @09:55AM (#32388520)
    The largest gains would be in fuel costs and life support / living space. One way trips cost about half as much because you don't have to carry nearly as much fuel with you, plus without the need for oxygen, manual interfaces, displays, living spaces, seats, etc. the total mission weight can be drastically reduced.
  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Saturday May 29, 2010 @10:04AM (#32388584) Homepage

    Yes, the prices drop - though less than you might think since not only are the robots themselves very expensive, so are the support/operations crew back on Earth. There's also considerable loss in the amount of science and work performed, so the difference in your 'bang for your buck' isn't all that great.

  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @10:08AM (#32388614)

    I would imagine that the prices drop dramatically once you don't have to worry about sending humans up, keeping them alive, and returning them safely.

    The price drop occurs when you limit the scope of your mission to what two robots can do. Yes, a small, relatively simple robotic mission is cheaper than a complex manned mission, but it also does less. I will say that due to the small communication delay with Earth, the argument for a manned presence is far less compelling than it'll be for anything outside of the Earth-Moon system. You really can run complex operations mostly from Earth via teleoperations. That's not an option that works well on Mars, for example.

  • by Seth Kriticos ( 1227934 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @10:21AM (#32388702)

    That's not very far fetched. Moon rocks (regolth) contains a vast amount of He3, so the idea for building a robotic moon base is probably to send back minerals sooner or later.

    I doubt they will use a railgun for that purpose though. It needs too much energy and the propellant has to have specific physical attributes (has to be conductive?).

    I think they will opt for rockets, or something like that, though the railgun version would be admittedly much cooler.

  • by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @10:24AM (#32388724) Homepage

    What they currently have can put close to 20 ton payload into LEO; that should be comfortably sufficient for robotic "base", in few shots.

    (and it's in the league of SpaceX anyway; especially if Japan modifies (only) their heaviest launcher even more - it is already a modification of one which could put half the above payload into LEO)

  • by fizzup ( 788545 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @11:16AM (#32389022)

    Yeah, you get less. But, man-oh-man, this seems like very high value. For comparison, here are some expenditures from groups that "can't afford" to go to the moon:

    It's such a small amount of money, I can't even believe it's true.

  • by TroyM ( 956558 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @11:17AM (#32389028)

    I keep hearing the He3 meme on Slashdot, but it sounds like just a far fetched attempt to make going to the moon financially worth while. I've read a lot about fusion attempts like ITER and the National Ignition Facility, but have yet to hear of anyone doing fusion using He3. A quick search of the web found this [], which says that He3 fusion will be much harder to achieve than fusion using Tritium or Deuterium. I think the main "advantage" of He3 fusion is that it would force us to go back to the moon

  • by durrr ( 1316311 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @11:22AM (#32389062)
    I'm starting to grow a bit tired of repeating this, but He3 is not the ultimate fusion fuel. It's only because it's an exotic off world resource that it gets all the hype.
    The benefits of He3 is that it's a aneutronic fuel, but it is definitely not the only such fuel, and considerin the shipping cost from the moon it is quite likely that He3 will have a hard time competing with other aneutronic fuels.
    Also, The temperature requried for He3 fusion is higher than for other fuels, so to actually get anything out of He3 fusion we're probably going to wait until second generation commercial fusion reactors pop up, the first ones that will feed our grid and establish the standards for fusion energy are unlikely to be He3 fusion reactors. Probably, we won't bother to ever use He3 fusion on earth, possibly we won't even bother to use it on the moon either.
  • by Go_Ask_Alex ( 459685 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @11:37AM (#32389172)

    The Japanese robot moon base is a spectacular announcement. It provides the ability to perform all kind of work and activity on the moon without the burden of human life support, or risk to humans considering cosmic radiation cancer risk, silica moon dust hazards, etc.

    But here on Slashdot, many respond with nationalistic bickering and insults. Shouldn't this tech-savvy bunch be smarter and above this?

    Maybe humans in their present physical and psychological state aren't meant for really space? Off World will end up being a refuge for the robots and replicants.

  • by Like2Byte ( 542992 ) <Like2Byte&yahoo,com> on Saturday May 29, 2010 @11:38AM (#32389186) Homepage

    OK, here's a question for you then. I understand the moon's surface is made up of a bunch of tiny particulate - "dust" is you will. This dust, as I understand, got into everything during the Apollo Moon Missions. Now, for arguments sake, let's say Japan is able to install a moon base operated wholly (locally) by robots.

    What kinds of effects would the dust have upon the rails, pathways, gears and whatever other machinery is necessary to operate? I imagine that the gust would wear down the machinery and the robots might not have the ability to recognize wear and tear in such an environment - both on themselves and the machinery.

  • by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @11:50AM (#32389252)

    it is a fallacy to continue to believe man can do more than a robot in near-earth space. Anything a human can do could have been by remote control. We've made the space program extremely wasteful by bothering to send humans. Some also believe the nonsense that humans in space help us toward the goal of colonizing space, but the truth is that the means we support humans in space now have nothing to do with how a self-sustaining colony would operate and in fact only degrade human health such that long term existence in space would be impossible. Incredible the tens of billions of dollars we've burned to no purpose.

  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @12:09PM (#32389394) Homepage

    I think it boils down to this: If we send humans to the Moon, they'll be remarkably like the humans Mark I we sent in 1969, while the most advanced robot we could have sent then was probably a digital watch. In 2050, if we still send humans for a round three they'll still be very similar to the 1969 humans, while if we send robots the next generation is likely to be much, much better than the last one. That means to a country running a space program, which hopefully have a little bit of foresight beyond this one mission, robots are still the way to go.

    Also, I think many people grossly exaggerate the "doing" part of science. We can design the mission down here, we can do the analysis down here, only very rarely does a scientist discover something to change his plans so on the fly that we couldn't tell the robot to go back and do it again tomorrow. If the robot lacks the tools, it's very likely a human would also lack the tools. The execution can be a fairly set of simple menial tasks like collect rocks, photograph every sample, put in processing chamber, wait for analysis - no great intelligence required. It's not like we're going to bring a huge lab of equipment we might use if and only if we found something interesting, humans or not.

  • Man is the best computer we can put aboard a spacecraft - and the only one that can be mass produced with unskilled labor. - Wernher von Braun

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 29, 2010 @01:12PM (#32389794)

    I think you're being a little too pedantic here. Mass or weight is *always* given in Earth terms unless explicitly stated otherwise.

  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @01:21PM (#32389866)

    it is a fallacy to continue to believe man can do more than a robot in near-earth space. Anything a human can do could have been by remote control.

    No. Repairing complex instruments like the Hubble couldn't have been done by robot.

    We've made the space program extremely wasteful by bothering to send humans. Some also believe the nonsense that humans in space help us toward the goal of colonizing space, but the truth is that the means we support humans in space now have nothing to do with how a self-sustaining colony would operate and in fact only degrade human health such that long term existence in space would be impossible. Incredible the tens of billions of dollars we've burned to no purpose.

    There are various reasons the global space programs are wasteful. The presence of humans is not one of the reasons (unless you think the space programs which have humans should do less than they currently are). It remains that you can't understand how to live in space long term, if you don't have people doing things in space at some point. Finally, far more public money is squandered on other things such as wars, government retirement and health care services, and corruption.

  • The satellites and the Mars rovers are not wholly "remote controlled" -- they are running "limited intelligence" programs that allow them significant amounts of autonomous operation. I'd put them as comparable to perhaps 4-8 year old humans in terms of "autonomous" operation. They needed external management and contributions from time to time. And as I recall Apollo 13 would fall into a similar category even though it had adult *human* operators.

    As far as "colonizing" goes -- there isn't a "hospitable planet" in the solar system. In order to make Mars hospitable you need to terraform it. In order to terraform it you need molecular nanotechnology. If you have molecular nanotechnology you might as well disassemble it and contribute its mass to the Matrioshka Brain. If you really want to colonize someplace alien but hospitable there are places like Antarctica, 1+ mile deep in the ocean, the cone of an active volcano, a lot of mountain peaks. Some of those have been colonized but not *really* since they have access to regular support on pretty much an "as needed" basis. If you want to *really* colonize some of those places simply send a team of humans there and don't provide them with any external support unless there is a life or death situation (and even then you are probably breaking the game rules). One could easily make up situations here on Earth that look like Moon, Mars or even Europa colonization efforts *WITHOUT* the expense of having to design new rockets, haul mass out of the Earth's gravity well, insert it safely into foreign gravity wells, etc. The "colonization" part is one aspect of the problem. What resources you do it with can be artificially constrained if you know enough about where you are starting from and where you are going to end up. If there is no ice on the South Pole at the moon then human colonization becomes an much different exercise than if there is. But we could fairly easily play out both scenarios here on Earth.

    If on the other hand, colonization which is extremely difficult is your cup of tea, might I suggest a colony on the surface of Jupiter.

  • by DriedClexler ( 814907 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @01:45PM (#32390068)

    You think that's bad? Wait till you compare $2.2 billion to what some companies spend on advertising.

    Advertising Age estimated global measured advertising expenditure of $2.7bn in 2008, making Coca-Cola the world's #6 advertiser.

    Source. []

  • by Yergle143 ( 848772 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @02:57PM (#32390574)

    Here's a handy link to the University of Wisconsin Fusion website dealing with the advantages/disadvantages of 3He as fuel []
    A key feature -- even though it requires more energy, burning D+3He yields far less neutrons which would be an important advantage in a commercial reactor.
    Fusion is still a dream but there is a lot of action with "alternative configurations" so we should keep our fingers crossed.
    Me: if fusion can work, why stop at the moon? Betcha there is more 3He to be sucked out of the regolith on Mercury!

  • by Lloyd_Bryant ( 73136 ) on Saturday May 29, 2010 @03:09PM (#32390680)

    For a better comparison, the Spirit and Opportunity rovers:
    "The total cost of building, launching, landing and operating the rovers on the surface for the initial 90-Martian-day (sol) primary mission was US$820 million." []
    The moon is a lot closer than Mars, so it doesn't seem entirely infeasible that they could do things significantly cheaper.

    Sorry, but that simply isn't true. For any space mission, a very large chunk of the total cost is the cost of getting the payload into Earth orbit. Once there, you can use high-efficiency low-energy transfer orbits to get to just about anywhere in the solar system, with very little in the way of energy expenditure compared to the trip up to orbit.

    The only real difference between having the Moon as a target as opposed to Mars is that the Mars mission will have a transit time measured in years, as opposed to days for the the Moon mission. For manned missions, those transit times are very significant (life support requirements), but for unmanned missions they don't add substantially to the cost.

    Costs do increase with distance (you have to pay ground controllers to monitor things during those longer transits), but the the difference isn't as great as you appear to believe.

  • by fustakrakich ( 1673220 ) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @12:32AM (#32394552) Journal

    "Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
    That's not my department," says Wernher von Braun.

  • Re:and why, exactly? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by daemonenwind ( 178848 ) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @01:00AM (#32394650)

    I guess you have not yet realized that all the people with the genetic makeup to make something of themselves left the Fatherland in the political unrest of the late 19th century. (For us, 1848) Most went to the US.

    This means that what was left in Europe is all the adolescent attitude and garbage. The US is, in fact, the proper maturation of Western thought after Europe went to nothing in the course of it's wars.

    In fact, the longest peace Europe has known (1945-now) exists because it is occupied by these people you call children. Before 1946, the history of Europe is of some tribes of barbarians wandering in and spending the next 1500 years fighting amongst themselves.

    You do speak properly when you refer to yourself as an adolescent, though. This sort of arrogant, self-righteous attitude is seen primarily in adolescents and in Europeans. We Germans are particularly bad about it. Perhaps if we could even decide amongst ourselves if Greece is worth saving, we could tell the Americans how to use their power. We have forgotten how to be the European Gleichgewicht.

    Thankfully the US has taken up the cause. And for this, you call them Empire. You don't know what Empire is.

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