Fully automated mining and factories on Earth a precursor of automation for space

Fully automated mining and factories and advanced robotics on the moon and asteroids could be leveraged for the exponential development of space. Here we review some of the developments of robotics for mining and factories on earth.

Robotic mining

Rio Tinto has 73 self driving trucks hauling iron ore 24 hours a day at four mines in Australia. They also use robotic rock drilling rigs. They are starting to use self driving trains that will be loaded and unloaded automatically. Driverless locomotives hae been tested extensively in 2017 and will be fully deployed by 2018.

BHP Billiton, the world’s largest mining company, is also deploying driverless trucks and drills on iron ore mines in Australia. Suncor, Canada’s largest oil company, has begun testing driverless trucks on oil sands fields in Alberta.

Driverless trucks have proven to be roughly 15 percent cheaper to run than vehicles with humans behind the wheel. The mining companies are going as aggressively as possible down this path.

Robotic and automated factories

Foxconn plans fully automated factories and already has automated production lines. The three step plan is:

1. set up individual automated work stations for work that workers are unwilling to do or is dangerous.

2. entire production lines automated along with a decrease of the number of robots used by the manufacturer.

3. which is aimed to be fully automated factories “with only a minimal number” of human workers.

Tesla also has highly automated factories.

Mining robots for space

RASSOR – Short for Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot, RASSOR is a robotic miner that has the ability to operate autonomously and can excavate space dirt, or regolith, to be studied for producing water, breathing air, and much more. Engineers are developing and testing RASSOR, and RASSOR 2.0—the second phase of the technology’s prototype—on Earth’s surface for potential use on the Moon or an asteroid. RASSOR’s excavation capabilities are a critical aspect of NASA’s deep-space travel goals.

Swarmies – These autonomously operating robotic vehicles are equipped with sensors, a webcam, GPS, and a Wi-Fi antenna that can be used independently or in a swarming pattern to locate, identify and collect valuable resources over unexplored space areas.

Electrostatic Dust Shield (EDS) – By using an electric field that spreads across the surface it is trying to protect, this technology is prevents dust and debris from collecting on surfaces such as spacesuits, thermal radiators, solar panels, optical instruments and other devices.

There is an analysis of lunar resources writtenin 2014.

* Water most important first
* local refinement of metals
* longer term, if a substantial lunar infrastructure is developed to support wider economic activities in cis-lunar space, then local sources of metals, semiconductors (for solar arrays), and even uranium (for nuclear power) would become desirable in addition to indigenous volatiles and building materials.

The availability of resources obtained from the much shallower potential well of the Moon would help mitigate these obstacles to further economic development in Earth orbit. Near-term lunar exports to a cis-lunar infrastructure could include the supply of rocket fuel/oxidiser (such as hydrogen and oxygen; especially oxygen which dominates the mass budget for liquid hydrogen/oxygen propulsion), and simple structural components. Later, as the lunar industrial infrastructure becomes more mature, the Moon may be able to provide more sophisticated products to Earth-orbiting facilities, such as Ti and Al alloys, silicon-based solar cells, and uranium (or plutonium derived from it) for nuclear power/propulsion systems.

* significant future expansion of economic activity in cis-lunar space would be the development of solar power satellites