July 19, 2012
On Thursday, July 19th, the Space Academy toured the Simulated Lunar OPErations (SLOPE) Facility. In this lab, we were shown some of the major work undertaken by NASA towards lunar rover traction, and simulated traveling conditions on the moon.
The tour guide took the group into a large, high-ceiling workshop where several large platforms sat filled with sand. The sand itself was very fine, with particle sizes designed specifically to simulate the properties of regolith on the moon. Half of the largest platform was adjustable, allowing the lab to simulate very steep grades a rover may have to surmount to get out of a crater. A large, slow-moving, 4-wheel rover from Carnegie-Mellon was presently in the testing set-up, demonstrating and experimenting the different capabilities of traction on a lunar simulated surface.
Several walls of the workshop were lined with metal-mesh ‘tires’ and various other non-gas-filled wheels, including copies of the original lunar rover tires. The various metal tires were designed to use the elasticity of the metal to absorb shock and reduce impact without denting. The SLOPE lab works to design and test tires for rovers operating on various extraterrestrial surfaces. The current tire designs are only efficient in one direction of motion and lack dampening, and therefore lead to ‘bouncing’– a rather more significant problem in ⅙ gravity.
During the tour, our guide showed us around, pointing out the various capabilities and goals of the lab, and explaining some of the historic significance.