2011 Desert RATS Mission Testing Off-Earth Exploration Technologies
In northern Arizona, NASA just kicked off the 2011 Desert RATS test mission, which is testing vehicle technologies for off-Earth exploration. Desert RATS is the nickname for NASA’s program officially called “Desert Research and Technology Studies”. For over ten years, NASA has assembled a wealth of information on vehicle technology, living space technologies and human studies.
A key component, the Space Exploration Vehicle (SEV) uses lessons learned from the Apollo-era “moon buggies”, yet takes advantage of new materials and technologies.
NASA’s goal for the SEV is to have a vehicle that can meet the needs of any destination. With features such as a pressurized cabin suitable for surface exploration or in-space missions, the SEV concept should prove instrumental in future manned exploration missions.
The test vehicle for surface exploration places the pressurized cabin on a motorized chassis, featuring wheels that can pivot 360 degrees and a top speed of about 10 kilometers an hour. Roughly the size of an SUV, the vehicle allows two astronauts to explore an area for up to 14 days.
Developed to survive harsh conditions and rough terrain, NASA’s engineers set lofty goals for the SEV : travel thousands of kilometers of rocky terrain, up 40 degree slopes, and little-to-no maintenance required.
One other goal NASA set for the SEV was to provide a shirtsleeve environment for astronauts. Both the surface and space versions feature suitports, which allow the astronauts to quickly enter and exit the vehicle. The suitports allow the spacesuits to remain outside the vehicle, preventing dust or other contaminants from entering the SEV.
According to NASA, new testing during the 2011 Desert RATS mission campaign is set to be the most extensive D-RATS testing to date. Testing more systems than in previous years, including more Habitat Demonstration Unit (HDU) systems. The HDU’s core module includes improvements to the 2010 configuration including laboratory equipment, work stations and a new sanitation module.
The 2011 version of the Habitat Demonstration Unit has an new, innovative, system to test: The X-Hab, which is an inflatable second story loft style addition to the HDU. The X-Hab was developed in conjunction with the X-Hab Academic Innovation Challenge. Together with the X-Hab, the HDU module provides astronauts with a means of habitation during the D-RATS test mission.
As mentioned above, during the 2011 Desert RATS field test the X-Hab loft is configured as the second story of the HDU. The HDU loft contains habitat facilities for crew personnel. The 2011 field test configuration also includes a new Hygiene Module and the Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) Work Porch. The resulting configuration with the HDU, X-Hab, Work Porch and other new elements result is the HDU Deep Space Habitat configuration.
What other technologies are being tested by NASA to assist with future manned exploration missions?
Also being tested during the 2011 mission is a new Sanitation Module. The Hygiene Module is a new addition to the HDU that provides the crew with a better means of practicing good hygiene. Consisting of a bath/sink area, supply cabinet and external water/wastewater tanks, and of course, a toilet, the new hygiene module allows the crew to stay clean and healthy. The hygiene module also monitors water usage rates, waste management and other logistics associated with the daily hygiene of a two-person crew. The data the hygiene module collects will be vitally important for mission planners of future manned space exploration missions.
During the 2011 Desert RATS mission, evaluating the data collected from the hygiene module will allow engineers to understand if the module is of adequate size and capability. Some specific data of interest is if the methods of collecting and stowing waste are effective and how much waste (solid and liquid) a two person crew can accumulate over a specified period of time.
Developing a heavy-duty, mobile habitat that can stand up to the rigors of off-world exploration is no easy task. Among the many NASA engineers and scientists, manufacturers of cars and heavy equipment are also working to develop the technologies used in the Desert RATS tests.
Each piece of technology NASA proves out with the Desert RATS tests is a fundamental building block that will allow the Space Exploration Vehicle to facilitate manned exploration of destinations such as the moon and Mars.
And now for something completely different!
Below is a YouTube clip featuring James May from “Top Gear” testing out the vehicle. I still say the Stig should have driven it.
I can hear the intro now: (Hammond)
“Some say he’s the reason we haven’t gone back to the moon and his blood is made of Tang. All we know is, he’s called the Stig!“
If you’d like to learn more about what is being tested during the 2011 Desert RATS mission, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/analogs/hdu_DRATS2011.html
You can learn more about NASA’s field testing missions (including Desert RATS) at: http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/analogs/index.html
NASA’s Desert RATS mission is also on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/NASA.DRATS
You can follow the Desert RATS mission on twitter at: http://twitter.com/#!/DESERT_RATS
Source:NASA Desert RATS Page