Colmena UNAM Project: The Mexican house dream travels in 5 robots on the best way to the Moon | EUROtoday

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Currently, 5 Mexican microrobots are heading in the direction of the Moon. They are aboard the Peregrino 1 spacecraft, which took off early Monday morning from Cape Canaveral, Florida (United States), and may attain the satellite tv for pc in about six weeks. Although the takeoff was a hit, the module has a gasoline leak that places the mission, which is the primary personal initiative to the Moon, at critical threat. It can also be the primary time that Mexico participates in an expedition to this star. In cost are the UNAM and the Mexican Space Agency, which have named the challenge Colmena, in honor of those small robots ready to work as a staff, like a swarm. Between the 5 of them they don’t exceed 300 grams. Now, the Mexican house dream travels wrapped in a bundle of cookies.

The subsequent house race has already begun. Countries not simply wish to set foot on the Moon, however relatively lay the foundations to make the most of its supplies and settle the primary colonies. And from there put together the bounce to Mars in about 20 years. The plan is gigantic. Decades in the past, governments such because the United States and Russia wager on the universe, adopted by China—which has already landed on the moon 3 times within the final 10 years—and India. In a particularly aggressive trade, wherein the European and Japanese Space Agency additionally play, Mexico is looking for its place. It’s not straightforward with so a few years of drawback. Trying to open a niche, the Colmena challenge was born.

Researcher Gustavo Medina, head of the Space Instrumentation Laboratory, UNAM Institute of Nuclear Sciences, and head of the mission, believes he has discovered the area of interest in small issues. There are already others constructing massive robots, massive automobiles, however Mexico is specializing in nanotechnology that permits the creation of many robots: tiny however environment friendly. While others deal with lions or elephants, Mexico is betting on bees. “Simple beings that together manage to do great things, because there are many of them and they know how to cooperate,” explains Medina, “as an alternative of sending a big machine to extract a mineral, which prices so much and if it breaks every little thing is misplaced, I can ship 100,000 tiny robots. , that if one dies nothing occurs. The challenge can resist. That’s the philosophy.”

This is how the Colmena mission began to be considered in 2015, when Mexico presented its project to the company Astrobotic, which is the creator of Peregrino 1 and which, sponsored by NASA, is in charge of the trip. The company selected UNAM’s idea for the first commercial mission to the Moon in history, along with 19 others that come from NASA, Germany, Japan or the United Kingdom. “We are twinning with the big countries,” said the director of the Mexican Space Agency, Salvador Landeros, who considers the project “something historic.” Also on board the ship is a time capsule with messages from 80,000 children from around the world and the ashes of the creator of Star TrekGene Roddenberry, the science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke and three United States presidents: George Washington, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.

The 'Pilgrim 1' rocket takes off from Cape Canaveral (Florida).
The ‘Pilgrim 1’ rocket takes off from Cape Canaveral (Florida).CHANDAN KHANNA (AFP)

With sensors and fins: designed to survive

The Mexican project has had a budget of 13 million pesos (about 770,000 dollars), coming equally from the Mexican Space Agency and the National Council of Science and Technology. Six million have been dedicated to the creation of the robots, in which 250 UNAM students have participated, in engineering, but also in mathematics, physics or chemistry, art and law; The other seven million have been for the launch with Peregrino.

Colmena is made up of five robots measuring 12 centimeters in diameter and weighing 56 grams each. They have wheels and some kind of fins. They live off the energy they get from their solar panels, which are flexible to withstand the vibration that comes with being launched in a special rocket. They also have sensors, microprocessors, intelligence to navigate autonomously and radars to move and communicate with other robots. Devices so small have never operated in space, Medina says proudly. “They are designed to learn what the challenges are of making such a tiny and sophisticated thing and for it to travel through space and survive, reach the Moon and survive.”

The Moon is a very aggressive environment, with drastic changes in temperature, radiation, lunar dust, impacts of interplanetary material. So, the first objective of the robots is to review what design strategies do serve to survive and identify problems that their creators have not yet imagined, “but that certainly exist,” says the head of Colmena. Its second goal is scientific: to understand how the regolith behaves, its characteristics, also to try to learn about that layer of smaller grains, which float about 20 or 30 centimeters from the surface of the Moon, to observe how telecommunications work there or “properties that have never been measured.”

A space catapult

Its small dimension additionally opens up many questions. “It is not the same whether a human or an animal steps on the surface of the Moon. rover, when the dust is compacted, that if you are so light, when the dust behaves differently, like a kind of fluid,” says Medina, who explains that for this reason the robots have paddles to “navigate”, in addition to some four centimeter wheels. The movement on the satellite was the last phase of the mission. Previously, robots had to survive the launch and also the moon landing. For that, they traveled wrapped, actually, in a kind of cookie package, Medina explains, along with a deployment and telecommunications module—called TTDM—which has several functions. It serves to receive the information that the robots collect on the Moon, while it remains on the ship, make the connection and be able to transfer the swarm data to Earth; and also serves as a catapult.

Medina says it and laughs: “If it worked for the Romans, why not for us?” When the ship reaches the Moon there may be nothing to decrease the robots, so the module turns into the primary house catapult and throws them about 10 or 15 meters away. It is vital that they go far as a result of they work with photo voltaic power and being within the shadow of the machine is identical as a dying sentence. “They can fall belly up or belly down, that’s why they have solar panels on both sides,” explains the researcher. Then they must “form a coordinate system so that they know where their companions are: they have to do that autonomously, because we don’t know where they are going to fall.”

That would have been the plan. However, an incident through the ship’s propulsion prompted a important lack of gasoline, making it very tough for Peregrine to succeed in the Moon. In its newest assertion, the Astrobotic firm identifies a leak that may trigger the module to expire of energy inside 40 hours. Peregrine is solar-powered, however requires gasoline to maintain the craft in a secure route pointing towards the solar. “Right now, the goal is to get Peregrino as close to lunar distance as possible before it loses the ability to maintain its position,” the corporate mentioned.

Medina, in his dialog with EL PAÍS, is already contemplating the choice of his 5 robots not touchdown on the Moon. “If they don’t arrive, the mission was already a success, from the moment it was able to get on top of the rocket,” he says. “It is a bit unrealistic to talk about failures when you are doing something so innovative and so far-reaching, what you have are failures and the important thing is not to fall, it is to get up. We are already building the second mission.”

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