While I've written before of the U.S. Navy's Athlete, a dexterous, long distance and freight-handling robotic walking lunar rover, under development by the Naval Research Laboratory in cooperation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I thought I'd be reading of something quite different when teased by a passing headline a short time ago.
The Athlete test-bed robots are gangly-looking enough, I thought, than to read New Scientist describe them as "giant, six-legged robots," that can "pick up and move a future Moon base thousands of kilometres across the lunar surface.."
They're certainly big, but hardly the 50 Foot Woman, not able to to lift a single-wide mobile home, let along an entire moon base, except perhaps in pieces and many trips.
And whether they are able to handle "thousands of kilometers" even over the course of any one unit's lifetime remains to be seen.
Athlete has been developed with MIT's farside Dark Age Lunar Interferometer, or DALI, which the Institute hopes can be deployed over a thirty-five mile wide area of the Tsiolkovsky, and in relative radio quiet a decade from now. DALI would listening for faint, highly red-shifted wavelengths from the so-called Dark Age, between 200 million years after the Big Bang and the first eras of star formation hundreds of millions of years later, when the structure of the present state of the known Universe began.
As I posted previously, the Naval Research Laboratory shares a $500,000 grant with MIT to design and test the logistics of deploying the proposed array. Plans call for deploying a nearside radio array to perform some actual science and to test the concepts behind DALI and its construction, already well along in planning.
NRL proposes using Athlete to patiently and persistently, as a robot should, haul components from a landing zone and eventual hub to sites clustered over a 50 kilometer wide area in Tsiolkovsky's southeastern third.
Each collector, 250 meters in size, would then need to be deployed and tuned. I've suggested they might then become integral to the full array itself by offering tuning mobility as the rails for the Very Long Baseline Array in Socorro, New Mexico performs, changing the size of a massive virtual aperture.
AIAA Lunar Architecture (September 2007) - Adobe Reader