Engineers at NASA are developing drones to use in prospecting the moon for potential mining sites.
NASA’s Swamp Works division created flying robots capable of flying inside the craters on the moon’s surface to search for possible deposits of minerals such as gold. They also hope to use them to explore lava tubes and extinct volcanoes, according to CruxialCIO.
A senior technologist at Swamp Works, Rob Mueller, said that they made the robot in accordance to NASA’s plans to mine the moon, Mars as well as asteroids. NASA believes that the areas that have not been explored might have vast deposits of minerals such as copper, iron, silver and gold.
The drones, part of the space vehicles called Extreme Access Flyers, were created to reach places that rovers cannot. Their intended mission is to sample the surfaces hidden inside of the craters or under huge land masses to discover the contents.
Among minerals, scientists surmise that there might even be ice or water in the areas they explore.
The actual flying times of the drones outside the Earth’s atmosphere are very limited in comparison to their capabilities on the Earth’s surface. If the drone is on Mars, it only has a few minutes of flying time. If flying on an asteroid, they are limited to a few hours.
The drones will also have to fly blindly. At this time, the areas in which they were made to explore have not yet been searched so therefore are not mapped.
The drones are all powered with laser guidance functionalities and are equip with autonomous flight and 3-D printing if needed.
Mueller said that the drones are promising in that they can be used for important applications on Earth as well. They may be used to pick up samples from a nuclear radiation-afflicted area or other missions that are considered too dangerous for humans if needed.
“We’re an innovations lab, so in everything we do, we try to come up with new solutions,” he said.