Desert RATS – On The Move



For some fourteen years now NASA‘s Desert Research and Technology Studies (Desert RATS) team has been testing out the viability of many of NASA’s vehicles, space suits, habitats and robotic systems in extreme environments.   Like their durable name-sake, the Desert RATS have proven to be resilient and flexible, adapting to the changing NASA environment. When it was announced that NASA would move away from the Constellation Program and toward other objectives such as asteroids and possibly Mars – the Desert RATS picked up the challenge and modified their regimen to reflect this change.

Testing this year will take place from Aug. 31 until Sept. 15 and will shakedown many new design concepts. The former Electric Lunar Rovers, now dubbed Space Exploration Vehicles will be tested at the site requiring simulated astronauts to live in these vehicles for a week. 

No Desert RATS expedition would be incomplete without some incredible robots to assist their human companions. There are the Tri-ATHLETEs (Terrain Hex-Legged Extra-Terrestrial Explorer) – these wheeled, spidery creations have six independent ‘legs’ each with a wheel at the base and can be fitted with different ‘tops” for each mission. Robonaut 2, one of NASA’s new robotic rock-stars, has been converted into a four-wheeled variant dubbed Centaur 2 and will be tested this year. This variation could be a potential mode of transport for NASA

However, this year’s rotation is all about the “hab.” The Habitat Demonstration Unit (HDU) Project is an inter-agency project consisting of NASA architects, scientists and engineers. These groups are working to develop living quarters, workspaces, and laboratories for future space missions, working under the “build a little – test a little” philosophy. This area will serve as a laboratory, a place for maintenance and a staging area in the event of a medical emergency. 

Robonaut-1 is seen here in its Centaur configuration. Photo Credit: NASA/Joe Bibby

“This allows us to have far greater flexibility,” said Tracy Gill, NASA’s Deputy Project Manager for the habitat element of this project. “These habitats are currently in the process of being developed further to make them even more adaptable.” 

NASA is working with the National Space Grant Foundation to develop an inflatable “loft” that will be attached to the HDU. This will mean that astronauts won’t have to don a space suit to travel from their living quarters to where they work – they would simply have to go “upstairs.” In an effort to promote science, technology, engineering and math (known as STEM) in college-age students, the X-Hab Academic Innovation Competition is working to sponsor development of these inflatable habitat concepts. The goal is for senior and graduate-level design students to design, manufacture, assemble, and test an inflatable loft that will be integrated on top of an existing NASA built hard shell prototype. 

As with any year the Desert RATS test out new concepts, this year promises to display many futuristic ideas that one day may be used in the real world(s). This year is slightly different however, in that the elements being tested are designed to be readily adaptable toward whatever NASA will eventually be called to do. During the Apollo era, astronauts were trained by “the King” – Farouk El-Baz. El-Baz worked with the astronauts so that they would be intimately familiar with the lunar surface, that they had the training and tools to get the job done. These annual event – would make “the King” – proud.


7 Replies to “Desert RATS – On The Move”

  1. This is what happens when you have a fat budget but no objective. Blue skies engineering? Someone please give them a target before they build a space jacuzzi.

  2. Nice summation. I hope to see some practical use of these devices before my atoms reintegrate with the cosmos, but the way things are going makes it look increasingly unlikely.

    BTW “No Desert RATS expedition would be incomplete without some incredible robots” – should that not be ‘complete’? Also in para 2, ‘shakedown’ should be two words.

  3. To Andyinnv: Is your life so pathetic you have nothing better to do than critique spelling on this forum? Nobody else cares, why do you?

  4. “space jacuzzi” – I like that!

    [Actually, that _would_ have a market. Especially if Bigelow gets his space hotels up! “Try out space sex and then our space jacuzzi! Floating hot and cold water guaranteed.”]

  5. @Flogger11 Nice to see you read the comments too 🙂

    I’d like to think that the writers, who put so much time and effort into producing excellent, and thought provoking, articles for us, would also like their presentations to be correct.

    You’re entitled to your opinion, but I’m not the only one who picks up on these things. Typos we all make.

  6. at last
    the movie shows a litle bit of sense in design (i find some very poor designs comming from nasa apart rom the actual rockets)

    the top pic here shows a totally usless wheeled vehicle that would get bogged down in minutes on a planets surface.

    but in the movie the combining of wheels and legs is briliant.
    ( some thing i thought of some time ago)
    as if a wheel gets bogged it can be lifted out of trouble.
    as well it appears very light weight or can be made so.

    the best design since the moon rover

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