It seems alot has been happening at NASA lately with regards to planning and implementation of new space missions. One such mission, is the proposal to build an outpost on the moon. The outpost is expected to begin operations in 2020, but some challenges need to be overcome in order to build the outpost landing site.
Due to the fact that there is no atmosphere on the lunar surface, it means that rockets landing and taking off from the lunar surface will blast lunar grit outwards and away from the landing/launch pad. The outpost's crew quarters and laboratories need to be in close proximity to the landing site, which means a solution needs to be found so these are not sandblasted everytime a rocket lands or takes off.
Researchers from Astrobotic Technology Inc and Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute have analyzed two possible solutions:
As could be imagined, the first possible solution is to create a hard-surface landing pad which would prevent loose grit from being blasted away from the site.
The second possible scenario would involve building a berm 8.5 feet high within a 160 foot semi-circle. This would require approximately 2.6 million pounds of lunar surface dirt to be moved or excavated. In order to do this, a new, small type of lunar robot weighing 330 pounds (under contract from NASA's Lunar Surface Systems group), may be used to move the dirt to prepare the landing site. It is estimated that two of these robots would be needed to complete the task in less than six months.
To create a hard-surface landing pad, researchers demonstrated how small robots could gather rocks to construct a suitable landing pad. Robotic scouting missions will need to analyze the soil to ascertain if the right size rocks and gravel could be found on the lunar surface to construct the landing pad. Astrobotic's first lunar robot has already reportedly been undergoing field tests for months.