NASA plans high-tech railway system on the moon

NASA plans high-tech railway system on the moon
NASA plans high-tech railway system on the moon

Human Interest

By Alex Mitchell

Published
May 10, 2024, 8:39 pm ET

Sounds like utter lunar-cy.

As the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) readies to return astronauts to the moon and convert the space rock into an orbital outpost, plans are apparently being mulled to build a train on its surface.

“We want to build the first lunar railway system, which will provide reliable, autonomous, and efficient payload transportation on the Moon,” robotics expert Ethan Schaler of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. he said.

Both the lunar landings — a series of Artemis missions returning personnel to the moon in 2028 — and the proposed high-tech train are pivotal to NASA’s Gateway project, a lunar orbiting space station that will serve as a hub for vast planetary exploration, especially for Mars.

“A durable, long-life robotic transport system will be critical to the daily operations of a sustainable lunar base in the 2030’s,” Schaler explained.

A NASA robotics expert proposes a railway for the lunar surface. Ethan Schaler

Unfortunately for astronauts eager to hitch a ride on the Lunar Express, this train will be for machines only.

JPL proposes “Flexible Levitation on a Track,” or FLOAT, as the answer to “transport payloads of varying shape” — up to 110 tons in weight‚ primarily from landing zones to more permanent outpost settings.

The system will do so using unpowered magnetically polarized robots to levitate above a three-layer track made of flexible films.

“FLOAT robots have no moving parts and levitate over the track to minimize lunar dust abrasion/wear, unlike lunar robots with wheels, legs, or tracks,” Schaler said

Experts propose a lunar railway to aid with Artemis and future space exploration missions. NASA/SWNS

A layer of graphite keeps them afloat, a “flex-circuit layer generates electromagnetic thrust to controllably propel robots along tracks,” and a third optional solar panel can generate thermal energy for the lunar base, the pro explained.

“FLOAT will operate autonomously in the dusty, inhospitable lunar environment with minimal site preparation.”

NASA is mulling the idea of ​​creating a lunar railway to aid in upcoming space missions. REUTERS

Unlike typical roads or railways, FLOAT tracks have the ability to unroll themselves to avoid any other major construction projects happening on the surface, according to Schaler.

“Its network of tracks can be rolled-up / reconfigured over time to match evolving lunar base mission requirements.”

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