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Jul 14 2015

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I expected a bit more awesomeness from something called TransFormers

NASA’s TransFormers Could Make Harsh Lunar Environments Robot Friendly. Basically, big rolling mirrors that would stay on the edge of a crater and reflect light to a rover in permanent shadow.

The idea has merit, though I would argue not for exploring craters that are in constant shadow. We can do that with multispectral, hyperspectral, or radar imagery, at least to determine what resources (like water) are tucked away down there. Where this TransFormers idea *could* be used most effectively is to explore Lava Tubes, though as the article states, you may need multiple relay mirrors to get deep into a tube.

The biggest problem for exploring Lunar or Martin Lava Tubes is maintaining the command link to the rover. RF doesn’t penetrate the ground, so in order to explore deeply into an underground canyon, there would have to be relay stations set up so that command data could get to the rover, and the rover’s imagery and sensory data could be transmitted out. The TransFormer rover, which would have to have its own communications package so that it too could be commanded to move or adjust its mirrors, would also have to include a relay station to the exploration rover. Perhaps the rover and all its support TransFormers would communicate via some IP network, with one master station that communicated with orbiters which in turn communicated with Earth.

That’s a LOT of infrastructure required to explore a single Lava Tube.

Also, the article states that both light and power would be provided by the sunlight from the TransFormer mirrors, but that would place a limit on how deep a rover could go into a cavern. No mirror reflects perfectly, so there would be sunlight lost with each reflection. And of course, there would be plenty of places where shadows would still exist (like behind rocks and ledges) where the rover couldn’t go for fear of get stuck there before it could re-emerge into the reflected sunlight.

Rovers with radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTG) would seem to require less infrastructure, but the command-link issue still exists. There would have to be relay stations set up periodically along the way in the tube so that the rover’s observations would make it back to Earth. Those relay stations *could* have their own RTGs, but we’re woefully short of Pu-238 and so it would be hard to justify using Pu-238 in a secondary role on a mission. However, an RTG rover would not be limited by shadow in a Lava Tube — it could go wherever it wanted to go.

Perhaps a hybrid solution? An RTG rover supported by TransFormer signal relay stations, which could also do their own (possibly limited) sampling? That is what I’d recommend.

Plus making a priority of generating a lot more Pu-238.

Plus discovering Energon so that we can have REAL Transformers:

Permanent link to this article: http://www.newspaceraces.com/2015/07/14/i-expected-a-bit-more-awesomeness-from-something-called-transformers/

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