Desert RATS Begin Field Studies
August 30, 2010
The Desert RATS are at it again. No, they’re not striking fear into the hearts of unsuspecting townspeople in some poorly made horror film. Instead, NASA’s Desert RATS (Research and Technology Studies) are making their 13th trip to the desert for another round of analog testing.
The Desert RATS tests offer a chance for a NASA-lead team of engineers, astronauts, and scientists from across the country to come together to conduct technology development research in the Arizona desert. The location is a good stand in for destinations for future planetary missions.
This year, for the first time, members of the public voted to help NASA decide which location to visit. The winning location, which received a positive vote from 67% of voters from 88 countries around the world, appears to be a place where multiple overlapping lava flows can be examined.
This year’s tests will take place August 31 through September 15. NASA hardware that will be demonstrated includes:
- Space Exploration Vehicles — a pair of rovers that astronauts will live in for seven days at a time
- Habitat Demonstration Unit/Pressurized Excursion Module — a simulated habitat where the rovers can dock to allow the crew room to perform experiments or deal with medical issues
- Tri-ATHLETEs (Terrain Hex-Legged Extra-Terrestrial Explorer) — two heavy-lift rover platforms that allow the habitat, or other large items, to go where the action is
- Portable communications terminals
- Centaur 2 — a possible four-wheeled transportation method for NASA Robonaut 2
- Portable Utility Pallets (PUPs) — mobile charging stations for equipment
- A suite of new geology sample collection tools, including a self-contained GeoLab glove box for conducting in-field analysis of various collected rock samples
In addition, a variety of independent supporting technology elements, including navigation systems to help guide spacewalkers and both solar- and wind-powered equipment, will be demonstrated and tested.
During this mission, there will be four crew members living in the two rovers. Their traverse routes will include driving up and down steep slopes and over rough terrain at various speeds. The crew will also demonstrate docking and undocking with the PUPs and the habitat. Other objectives for the rovers include demonstrating the differences in productivity for crew members and their ground support that come with the different communication methods, and evaluating different operational concepts for the trips the rovers make.
The ATHLETE System, which consists of a pair of Tri-ATHLETE rovers, will be remotely controlled both in Arizona and from Houston to demonstrate long-traverse operations during lunar time delays and portable local operations from the personnel in Arizona.
The Habitat Development Unit will be used to evaluate the geosciences laboratory in conjunction with the sample collections and to assess the spacesuit maintenance area inside. This team will also focus on procedures for keeping out the dust, effects on the overall integrated communications and data systems, and whether the habitat is easy for people to use.
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Last updated August 30, 2010