Excavation of surface regolith material is the first step in processes to extract volatile materials from planetary surface regolith for the production of propellant and life support consumables. Typically, concentrations of volatiles are low, so relatively large amounts of material must be excavated. A bucket wheel excavator is proposed, which has the capability of continuous excavation, which is readily adapted to granular regolith materials as found on the Moon, in drift deposits on Mars, and probably on the surface of asteroids and satellites, such as Phobos. The bucket wheel excavator is relatively simple, compared to machines such as front end loaders. It also has the advantage that excavation forces are principally horizontal rather than vertical, which minimizes the need for excavator mass and suits it to operations in reduced gravity fields. A prototype small bucket wheel excavator has been built at approximately the scale of the rovers that are carried to Mars on the Mars Exploration Rover Mission. The prototype allows the collection of data on forces exerted and power requirements for excavation and will provide data on which more efficient designs can be based. At excavation rates in the vicinity of one rover mass of material excavated per hour, tests of the prototype demonstrate that the power required is largely that needed to operate the excavator hardware and not related strongly to the amount of material excavated. This suggests that the excavation rate can be much larger for the same excavation system mass. Work on this prototype is continuing on the details of transfer of material from the bucket wheel to an internal conveyor mechanism, which testing demonstrated to be problematic in the current design.

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