NASA is working on the first railway network on the Moon, with unrollable tracks and magnetic levitation robots for transporting loads


By John

NASA is working on designing the first railway network on the Moon, with unrollable tracks and magnetic levitation robots to transport heavy loads near future lunar bases. The project, called Float (Flexible Levitation on a Track), is led by mechanical engineer Ethan Schaler of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, and is among six visionary studies that have passed the first selection phase under the Innovative Advanced program Concepts (Niac) of NASA.

Among the projects in progress, other science fiction technologies stand out such as the fluidic space telescope based on ionic liquids and the pulsed plasma rocket to accelerate travel to Mars. In the second phase of the Niac program, these projects will receive up to 600 thousand dollars for another two years of development before a further selection preparatory to accessing the third and final phase of the program, which could lead to the launch of a new aerospace mission .

The Float project intends to build the first lunar railway system to provide a reliable, autonomous and efficient means of cargo transportation. «A durable robotic transport system – explains Schaler – will be fundamental for the daily operations of a sustainable lunar base in the next 1930s», in particular for the transport of regolith (extracted for consumer products in situ or construction) and the transport of payloads between the lunar base and any landing zones or other outposts.

The Float system intends to employ unpowered magnetic robots that levitate on a three-layer flexible film track: a graphite layer that allows the robots to levitate, a flexible layer that generates an electromagnetic thrust to move the robots in a controlled manner, and a Optional made of a film of solar panels that can generate energy for the base when exposed to sunlight.

Float robots have no moving parts and levitate on the track to minimize abrasion and wear from lunar dust.

The tracks roll out directly onto the lunar regolith to avoid major on-site construction, and can subsequently be rolled up and reconfigured to suit different needs. Individual Float robots will be able to transport payloads of various shapes and sizes (over 30 kilos per square meter) at useful speeds (greater than 0.5 meters per second).

Such a large-scale rail system would allow up to 100,000 kilos to be moved multiple kilometers per day.