CraterGrader: Autonomous Robotic Lunar Sitework

Russell Wong | 2022-09-22

There is strong U.S. interest in creating a sustained presence on the moon. This would involve developing essential lunar surface infrastructure, such as landing pads, roads, and lunar bases. The issue is that the surface of the moon is cratered, unstructured, rocky, and unforgiving; certainly not suitable for immediate construction. Furthermore, while earth-based priors exist for terrestrial construction, these machines are predicated on the availability of mass, gravity, and energetics which are far more limited when operating in space. To address this problem, there is a need for technology capable of transforming this unstructured terrain into a flat, craterless surface, such that lunar construction can then take place. And thus, CraterGrader was born.

CraterGrader is a graduate-level capstone project spearheaded by a group of five M.S. Robotic Systems Development students at Carnegie Mellon University. The team consists of John Harrington, Ryan Lee, Alex Pletta, Russell Wong, and Ben Younes, and is being advised by Dr. William "Red" Whittaker. The goal of this project is to develop a robotic worksystem that can demonstrate surface-grading autonomy in a lunar-like environment. The CraterGrader worksystem was designed and developed from the ground up, including mechanical, hardware, and software components. Sensing modalities are constrained to prohibit those unavailable on the moon (such as lack of GPS and magnetometer). The system is being tested in a 600 sq ft sandbox filled with lunar simulant, located at the Planetary Robotics Lab at CMU.

The following video depicts our team's accomplishments over the Spring Semester 2022. In the Spring, we demonstrated the capability of our worksystem to fully grade craters in a worksite. The robot was able to autonomously control its grading blade, while a teleoperator controlled the vehicle's mobility by observing visualized sensor data only. Our next major milestone is the final demonstration in the Fall, where our goal is to show fully autonomous tool and mobility control. More detailed information can also be found on our website. Keep posted for more updates to come!


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