Caterpillar developing loaders with NASA for lunar mining

Updated Jan 15, 2013

the moonThey call it earthmoving here. So does that make it moon-moving or lunar-moving if it happens up there?

We’ll soon find out.

NASA announced that Caterpillar is one of 38 companies awarded seed funds as a part of that agency’s Innovative Partner Program. The goal of the program is to create technologies for future space projects, and in Cat’s case, to develop machines that could help with mining, grading, trenching and other moon-moving operations on our closest celestial neighbor.

As their part of the program, Cat is working on a concept for a multi-terrain loader for lunar surface development. The loader would be controlled in one of two ways, says Cat. It could be operated remotely from earth with an on-board camera. Or it could be preprogramed for autonomous operation after it is off-loaded on the lunar surface.

“The way we look at it, there are technologies that are needed on both the Earth and moon,” says Michele Blubaugh, manager of Intelligence Technology Services at Cat. “We looked at autonomous operation of equipment as being the same type of technology that could be used on the moon as well as in a mining application. We have the same end result as NASA.”

Back here on Earth, the same type of technology could guide machines in mines and other dangerous or toxic environments without the need for an operator.

There are two prototypes of the machine based on a Cat 287 C skid steer loader, one at Cat’s proving grounds in Peoria, Illinois, the other at NASA headquarters in Houston, Texas.

No word yet on what a low gravity environment does to tipping loads.