The excavator development team at Astrobotic has fabricated a new bucket-wheel prototype for the lunar excavator. The bucket-wheel has twelve buckets with front faces angled to cut into regolith (loose soil) as the rover advances. It will be mounted centrally and transverse to the rover's driving direction.
The new bucket-wheel prototype
The bucket-wheel keeps any excavation resistance opposing the direction of travel very low and enables efficient regolith extraction in low gravity environments like the moon. The transverse mounting of the wheel achieves direct regolith transfer into a dump-bed without use of exposed conveyors or chains, which fare poorly in the harsh lunar regolith and vacuum conditions. An ongoing experimental campaign is identifying further bucket-wheel enhancements to reduce excavation resistance and increase productivity.
Excavating regolith provides resources that enable construction and maintenance of outposts, fuel depots, and sustained space exploration operations. Excavators will eventually feed processing plants that turn native regolith into oxygen, water, and fuel.
Astrobotic is developing a novel, lightweight excavator outfitted with a bucket-wheel