Excavation Thesis

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Excavation Thesis

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Krzysztof Skonieczny

April 17, 2013

Carnegie Mellon University

Pittsburgh, PA 15213

Thesis Committee:

David Wettergreen, Co-Chair

William (Red) L. Whittaker, Co-Chair

Dimitrios Apostolopoulos

Karl Iagnemma, MIT

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements

for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Copyright

Abstract

Planetary excavators face unique and extreme engineering constraints relative to

terrestrial counterparts. In space missions mass is always at a premium because it

is the main driver behind launch costs. Lightweight operation, due to low mass and

reduced gravity, hinders excavation and mobility by reducing the forces a robot can

effect on its environment.

This thesis shows that there is a quantifiable, non-dimensional threshold that

distinguishes the regimes of lightweight and heavy excavation. This threshold is

crossed at lower weights for continuous excavators (bucket-wheels, bucket chains,

etc.) than discrete excavators (loaders, scrapers, etc.). The lightweight threshold

relates payload ratio (weight of regolith payload collected to empty robot weight),

excavation resistance (force imparted on an excavator by cutting and collecting soil),

and excavation thrust (force supplied by an excavator that is available for cutting

soil).

Experiments and simulation herein show that payload ratio governs productivity

of lightweight excavators. Reducing weight (due to low mass, reduced gravity, or

both) decreases an excavators thrust to resistance ratio, especially in cohesive soils.

There is a predictable regime in the operating space where this ratio is low enough

that it limits an excavators payload ratio and, ultimately, productivity. Discrete

excavators cross into this regime more readily than continuous excavators, because

soil accumulation on their blades increases their excavation resistance.

This research introduces novel experimentation that for the first time subjects

excavators to gravity offload (a cable pulls up on the robot with 5/6 its weight, to

simulate lunar gravity) while they dig. A 300 kg excavator offloaded to 1/6 g successfully collects 0.5 kg/s using a bucket-wheel, with no discernable effect on mobility. For a discrete excavator of the same weight, production rapidly declines as rising

excavation resistance stalls the robot; in total the discrete bucket collects less than

20 kg of regolith. These experiments demonstrate that discrete excavation crosses

the lightweight threshold under conditions where continuous excavation does not.

They also suggest caution in interpreting low gravity performance predictions based

solely on testing in Earth gravity.

This work develops a novel robotic bucket-wheel excavator. It features unique

direct transfer from a bucket-wheel to a high payload ratio dump bed, as well as a

high traction and high speed mobility system. Past lightweight excavator prototypes

were too slow or carried too little regolith payload. Some used bucket-wheels or

bucket-ladders to dig continuously, but transported regolith using exposed chains or

conveyors that would not withstand harsh lunar conditions.

Future research on lightweight excavation would benefit from testing in reduced

gravity flights. These provide the most representative test environment short of actually operating on a planetary surface, as excavator and regolith are both subject

to reduced gravity. Another important direction for future study is deep excavation

in the presence of submerged rocks, which pose challenges for lighweight continuous and discrete excavators alike. Experiments to confirm the generality of results

cohesive soils, and comparing a broad variety of discrete and continuous excavator

tools.

iv

Contents

1

Introduction

1.1 Motivation for planetary excavation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

1.2 The Load-Haul-Dump cycle at the core of excavation tasks . . . . . . . . . . .

1.3 Lightweight is low mass in low gravity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

1.4 Definitions of important terms and concepts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

1.4.1 Continuous vs. discrete excavators . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

1.4.2 Payload ratio . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

1.4.3 Excavation thrust . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

1.4.4 Excavation resistance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

1.5 Scope . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

1.6 The problem of distinguishing productive lightweight excavator configurations

1.7 Thesis Statement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

1.8 Overview . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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3.1 Task-level site work modeling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

3.1.1 Traction modeling (wheels) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

3.1.2 Excavation models . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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2.1 Fundamental mechanics of excavation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

2.1.1 Gravity and cohesion forces included in all excavation models

2.1.2 Adhesion and inertial forces can usually be neglected . . . . .

2.1.3 Surcharge forces arise due to soil accumulation . . . . . . . .

2.1.4 Discrete Element Models for excavation . . . . . . . . . . . .

2.2 Experimentation for Lunar and Planetary Excavation . . . . . . . . .

2.2.1 The large impact of soil accumulation on discrete excavation .

2.2.2 Soil properties and gravity are important conditions to control

2.3 Applicability of excavation resistance models to planetary excavation

2.4 Lunar excavation trade studies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

2.5 Lightweight excavator prototypes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

2.6 Soil loosening methods and mechanisms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

2.7 Autonomous Earthmoving and Tele-Operation . . . . . . . . . . . . .

2.8 Conclusions Based on Related Work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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3.1.4 Power modeling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

3.1.5 Parametric sensitivity analysis . . . . . . . . . .

Experiments with a small robotic excavator . . . . . . .

3.2.1 Experimental setup . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

3.2.2 Predicted sensitivity of experimental parameters

3.2.3 Experimental results . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Comparison of simulated and experimental results . . . .

Hauling dominates task productivity . . . . . . . . . . .

Conclusions from sensitivy experiments and simulations

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4.1 Relationship of mass and scale . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

4.2 Light weight reduces excavation thrust coefficient . . . . . . . . . . .

4.3 Predicted effects of light weight on excavation resistance coefficient .

4.3.1 Effects of light weight operation on surcharge . . . . . . . . .

4.4 Excavation scaling experiments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

4.4.1 Experimental setup . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

4.4.2 Preliminary investigation of soil preparation . . . . . . . . . .

4.4.3 Soil preparation and force measurement . . . . . . . . . . . .

4.4.4 Experimental results . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

4.5 Conclusions regarding thrust and resistance for lightweight resistance

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5.1 A non-dimensional Lightweight number . . . .

5.1.1 L for continuous and discrete excavation

5.2 Gravity offloaded excavation experiments . . . .

5.2.1 Experimental setup . . . . . . . . . . . .

5.2.2 Predicted lightweight numbers . . . . . .

5.2.3 Experimental results . . . . . . . . . . .

5.3 Conclusions regarding the lightweight threshold .

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6.1 Excavation tooling configuration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

6.1.1 Testing transverse bucket-wheels . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

6.2 Excavator mobility system . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

6.3 Conclusions regarding lightweight robotic excavator development

Conclusions and future work

7.1 Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

7.2 Contributions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

7.2.1 Bringing planetary excavation missions forward . . .

7.2.2 Establishing resources and direction for future work

7.3 Future work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

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Bibliography

109

A Extensions

119

A.1 Regolith shaping . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 119

A.2 Non-tractive excavation thrust . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 120

B Soil flow imaging and grouser spacing

123

vii

viii

1 Introduction

1.1

Excavation of regolith enables in situ resource utilization (ISRU) on the Moon and Mars. ISRU

reduces the cost of exploration by producing consumables (including oxygen, water, and fuel)

from native regolith and building earthwork infrastructure (such as trenches as berms). NASA

highlights five motivations for excavation:

(1) excavation for oxygen production, (2) excavation and material handling for landing pad and berm fabrication, (3) excavation for habitat protection (e.g., radiation

and micrometeoroids), (4) excavation for mission element emplacement (e.g., nuclear reactor burial), and (5) excavation for science (e.g., trenching for stratigraphy

evaluation). The most important task identified to date is regolith excavation and

transport for oxygen production [58].

China intends to build a lunar base for taikonauts. Russia and Japan plan to extablish robotic

lunar outposts. Early ISRU missions will be fully robotic, demonstrating ISRU and excavation technology while carrying out scientific inquiry. Regolith excavation and processing will

continue to be performed robotically as the technology matures, even when supporting human

exploration.

Excavation can expose buried ice by removing overburden. Figure 1.1 shows multiple regions

at the Lunar South Pole that may harbor buried deposits of water ice. Studies suggest ice could

1

Figure 1.1: The Lunar south pole has areas cold enough to sustain water ice (shown red

through blue) even in accessible areas well outside of permanently shadowed craters (outlined in

white) [23]. Excavating down to these resources can uncover them for direct scientific measurement, characterization, or mining.

be found in accessible areas (outside crater rims) at depths of only tens of centimeters [23, 59].

Excavating down to these deposits can uncover them for direct scientific measurement, characterization, or mining. Characterizing and mapping these ice resources is another important goal

for ISRU [58], and Astrobotic Technology Inc. and Shackleton Energy Company intend to mine

these resources. Moon Express aims to mine platinum on the lunar surface.

The tasks requiring excavation on the Moon and Mars thus span mining, earthworking for

infrastructure, as well as direct scientific inquiry. Figure 1.2 and Figure 1.3 show visualizations

of some of these various excavation tasks.

1.2

Regolith requires varying degrees of processing depending on the application. Three classes of

task are distinguished here based on this degree of processing.

2

Figure 1.2: Conceptual discrete excavation robot (with a front-loading bucket) building outpost

infrastructure on the Moon

Figure 1.3: Conceptual continuous excavation robot (with a bucket-wheel) digging a trench on

the Moon, while collecting regolith

1. Displacement. For some tasks the only requirement is moving the regolith out of the

way. These tasks (or sub-tasks) include removing overburden from buried ice, trenching

to expose stratigraphy, and digging holes to emplace mission elements.

2. Shaping. For another class of tasks - which includes building berms, covering habitats,

burying emplaced assets - the regolith is the desired material. Once moved into place, additional processing consists merely of physically shaping, molding, and perhaps compacting

or sintering the regolith.

3. Refinement. For some tasks, the desired resource makes up only a fraction of the regolith, and processing is required to refine and extract the resource. This includes oxygen

extraction as well as mining for ice or platinum.

Moving regolith from one place to another, in a load-haul-dump cycle, is central to the first

two of these task classes. The degree to which load-haul-dump is also central to the third depends

on where processing occurs. Options include a central processing plant designed to accept raw

regolith, a central plant that accepts beneficiated regolith (i.e. pre-processed to increase the

concentration of the desired resource), or a plant that runs entirely on the excavator. Onboard

processing introduces significant mass and extreme thermal requirements; oxygen extraction, for

example, requires heating regolith to between 900 C and 1600 C [58]. It is assumed that, for

these reasons, onboard processing will not be incorporated into excavators themselves during

prototypical excavation missions. Load-haul-dump is thus a paradigm that encompasses the key

aspects of all relevant regolith excavation tasks.

1.3

Light weight can be attributed to low robot mass, reduced gravity, or both. In any space mission,

mass is always at a premium because it is the main driver behind launch costs. Small excavators

that can achieve mission goals are preferable to larger ones. Low mass machines operating in

4

reduced gravity (1/6 of Earth gravity on the Moon, 1/3 on Mars or Mercury) have limited weight

available to produce traction or plunge tools into regolith. Traction and plunge force are limited

to a fraction of robot weight. Figure 1.4 expresses how low mass and reduced gravity leads to low

traction and plunge force. Engineering challenges associated with lightweight excavation necessitate a rethink of excavation configurations, possibly beyond the dozers, loaders, and excavators

typical in terrestrial applications [12].

Excavation missions started small. For example, the Surveyor, Viking, and Phoenix landers

gathered samples of a few cubic centimeters at depths of a few centimeters with scoops mounted

to relatively heavy landers (see Figure 1.5). Next missions will likely escalate to excavating cubic

meters worth of regolith at depths of 10s of cms using lightweight mobile robots (e.g. digging

down to expose and collect water-ice in polar regions of the Moon). Finally, excavation will scale

up to production machines for ISRU. Having a configuration that scales well with increasing size

and mass allows subsequent missions to re-use existing technology, learn from past difficulties,

and reduce risk. This principle is exemplified in the similarities between Mars Sojourner, the

subsequent MERs, and now the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), as seen in Fig. 1.6. Robotic

5

Figure 1.5: Lunar and Martian landers to date have gathered only small samples with scoops

mounted to relatively heavy landers. Surveyor (top left) on the Moon with scoop extending right

on scissor arm; Viking (top center) model with excavation boom deployed; Phoenix (top right)

artists concept; Trenches dug by each (bottom row), respectively [NASA].

excavators with high productivity across a range of light weights are essential.

1.4

Before addressing the problem posed by lightweight robotic excavation, a few additional concepts and terms are defined.

Excavators can be classified as continuous or discrete, describing interactions with the soil while

taking multiple cuts.

Continuous excavators stay continually in contact with the soil as they take multiple cuts.

This necessitates having multiple cutting surfaces; by the time each surface or bucket has ac6

Figure 1.6: Configurations that scale well from small initial missions reduce risks in subsequent

missions. Sojourner (center), MER (left), and MSL (right) share a common suspension configuration for this reason [NASA JPL].

cumulated an appreciable amount of soil it clears the ground and the next, soil-free, bucket has

already started cutting. Continuous excavators include bucket-wheels, bucket-chains, and elevating scrapers.

Discrete excavators are those that must break contact with the soil before starting a new cut;

between cuts, the excavator may need to dump its load or clear the cutting surface, for example.

These excavators fill one large bucket with a single cut; the cutting edge has an ever-growing

accumulation of soil as the bucket is filled. Discrete excavators include front-end loaders, dozers,

mining shovels, and open bowl scrapers.

Figure 1.7 shows examples of both continuous (left box) and discrete (right box) mobile

excavators. The taxonomy lines in the figure also note another way of subdividing the excavators,

namely into trenchers, scrapers, and front-end loaders/pushers.

In this work, a discrete excavators blade or bucket (filled directly by the act of cutting)

is assumed to be the excavators only vessel for collecting and transporting regolith. Discrete

excavators that transfer load to a secondary collection bin (i.e. a dump-bed) are considered

separately in Appendix A.

7

8

Figure 1.7: Taxonomy of mobile excavators, with continuous excavators shown in the blue box (left), and discrete in the yellow

(right). The upper and lower rows show parallels between terrestrial and planetary machines, respectively.

Payload ratio is the ratio of weight of regolith payload collected to empty robot weight; it is a

measure of pound-for-pound regolith moving capacity that turns out to govern the productivity

of lightweight robotic excavators. Terrestrial loaders and scrapers attain payload ratios as high as

80% to 100% [35]. Space systems are subject to additional constraints that make it challenging

to attain payload values that high; a payload ratio of 50% is considered relatively high in this

context. In this thesis, the non-dimensional quantity payload ratio is denoted P .

Excavation thrust is the force supplied by an excavator that is available for cutting soil. In

this work, excavation thrust is assumed to be provided by traction, as excavator configurations

typically considered for space applications cut by driving forward. Alternate modes of providing

excavation thrust, such as resisting articulation forces using a static base or using excavator

weight directly to cut vertically down, are considered separately as extensions to this work, in

Appendix A.

A vehicles drawbar pull is the net traction available for doing work, and is dependent upon

slip (or travel reduction, a caveat explained in Chapter 4). Drawbar pull at 20% slip is a good

measure of tractive performance, as pull begins to plateau around 20% slip for many wheels (or

tracks) while negative effects such as sinkage increase [68]. A non-dimensional quantity, P20 /W

(Drawbar pull at 20% slip, normalized by weight), has been used as a benchmark metric for lunar

wheel performance from the times of Apollo [24] to today [70, 80].

In this thesis, excavation thrust refers to drawbar pull at 20% slip, because of the assumption

of tractive thrust; it is denoted P20 . The non-dimensional ratio of excavation thrust to weight

is defined as the excavation thrust coefficient, and is denoted T. Under the tractive thrust

assumption, T = P20 /W .

9

Excavation resistance is the force imparted on an excavator by cutting and collecting soil. Only

the forces during the cut (once the excavation blade is already in the ground) are treated explicitly.

Penetration forces are neglected but, as Blouin assumes these forces are of the same nature as

the cutting forces [11], they can be treated as analagous to cutting forces and subsumed by them.

Crucially, resistance introduced by soil accumulation at a buckets cutting edge (which increases

the force required to move additional soil into the bucket) is accounted for as part of excavation

resistance.

Excavation resistance force is denoted Fex in this work. The non-dimensional ratio of excavation resistance to empty excavator weight is defined as the excavation resistance coefficient,

and is denoted F = Fex /Wrobot .

1.5

Scope

This thesis considers excavation tasks that involve load-haul-dump, with some additional processing such as shaping, compaction, and beneficiation treated as extensions to this central task.

Mining robots that fully process resources onboard are outside the scope of this work.

This work deals primarily with excavators that produce thrust for cutting by developing traction, with other sources of excavation thrust treated as extensions in Appendix A.

Excavation in gravity between 1 and 1/6 that of Earth is considered, to cover a range that

includes Earth, Mars, Mercury, and the Moon. Digging on asteroids is outside the scope of

this work. The range of robot mass considered in this work spans from 30 kg to approximately

300 kg. Larger, more massive, machines are unlikely to satisfy mass budgets of near-future

excavation missions. As machines get smaller than 30 kg or so, baseline components that do not

scale well (like computing and communications) take up an ever larger proportion of the mass,

leaving little room for productive excavation tooling. The scope of this work covers a range of

10

1.6

Excavation using lightweight machines is problematic because light weight puts severe limits on

forces an excavator can effect for traction and plunging tools into soil. Excavators for building

infrastructure and mining resources on the Moon and Mars will necessarily be lightweight, because they will be low mass machines (in space missions mass is always at a premium) operating

in reduced gravity.

No prior methodology exists for developing or even evaluating robotic configurations that are

lightweight and yet still productive.

1.7

Thesis Statement

This thesis substantiates that continuous excavators maintain high productivity at light weights,

where productivity for discrete excavators declines. All excavators have a lightweight threshold

in the operating space, below which their productivity is limited. This threshold is crossed at

lower weights for continuous excavators than discrete excavators. The lightweight threshold is

described by a non-dimensional quantity that relates payload ratio, excavation resistance, and

excavation thrust.

1.8

Overview

Chapter 2 presents related work in lightweight excavation. This includes excavator configuration trade studies and a variety of prototypes. Proposed methods for reducing excavation

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resistance, including percussion and raking, are discussed. The utility and limitations of analytical models and experimental techniques commonly used for lunar excavation research are

explored.

Chapter 3 shows that the haul stage of load-haul-dump cycles governs excavator productivity,

based on experiments and simulations. The resulting importance of payload ratio is discussed, as

are underlying assumptions regarding excavation thrust and resistance that underpin these results.

Excavation thrust, excavation resistance, and the relation of these terms, are the subject of

Chapter 4. This chapter also discusses how excavation resistance varies during excavation depending on excavator configuration (i.e. continuous vs. discrete excavation). Excavation resistance due to soil accumulation is explored. Analytical models are used to extend results to low

gravity environments, and these results are compared to the limited low gravity experimental

data available.

Chapter 5 develops the lightweight threshold, combining the concepts from the previous

chapters. Experimental results of excavation operations below and above this threshold are presented. The limitations of performing lightweight excavation experiments on Earth are discussed.

Chapter 6 presents practical considerations for implementing continuous excavation in space.

This is done in the context of the development of a prototype for a novel lightweight bucket-wheel

excavator robot.

Chapter 7 summarizes the major conclusions and contributions of this thesis, and proposes

relevant future work.

12

Literature related to lightweight robotic excavation research includes the principles of excavation

and attempts to model its mechanics, experimentation in analogue lunar and planetary conditions,

trade studies and prototypes of lunar excavator configurations, soil loosening methods, and automation of earthmoving and mining equipment.

2.1

The mechanics of excavation are based on the principles of passive earth pressure, adapted from

the design of retaining walls, as shown in Figure 2.1. Reece presents the following as the fundamental equation of earthmoving mechanics [32]:

PEx = N gd2 + Nc cd + Nq qd + Na Ca d

(2.1)

where PEx is excavation resistance force per unit width, and the four terms of the summation

represent (in order) forces due to frictional shearing (i.e. gravity), cohesion, surcharge, and soiltool adhesion. Inertial forces are explicitly ignored, as low cutting speed is assumed. The Ni are

non-dimensional coefficients pertaining to each of the four sources of force, respectively. Gravitational acceleration is denoted g, is soil density, d is cut depth, c is cohesion, q is surcharge

pressure, and Ca is soil-tool adhesion. The equation is for cutting with a flat plate. As this is

a two-dimensional formulation, a first order estimate of excavation resistance force for a cut of

13

finite width can be made by multipyling by said width, w:

FEx = wPEx

(2.2)

A wide variety of models have been investigated for their potential applicability to planetary

excavation [26, 39, 73, 74]. However, at their root, they are all just variations of Reeces fundamental equation (with the possible exception of Luth & Wismer). Models vary in which force

terms they do and dont include. Several models omit tool-soil adhesion and/or surcharge forces.

Some include inertial forces, which Reece explicitly omitted. Table 2.1 lists the array of models

and shows which force terms they include. Additionally, the models vary in their definitions of

the Ni coefficients.

Excavation shears soil, and a soils shear strength is governed by its internal friction angle and

cohesion. These shear strength contributions are modelled for excavation resistance by gravity

and cohesion terms, respectively. All the models listed in Table 2.1 include at least some form

14

Model

Reece

Osman

Gill

Luth & Wismer

Godwin

Balovnev2

McKyes / Swick

Qinsen

Willman

Zeng

Gravity

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

X

Cohesion

X

X

X

1

X

X

X

X

X

X

Surcharge

X

X

X

X

X

X3

Adhesion

X

X

X

X

X

Inertia

X

1

Table 2.1: Models vary in which force terms they include, but gravity and cohesion are always

considered. 1 In Luth & Wismer, cohesion and inertia terms are multiplied by gravity terms,

rather than added to them. 2 Balovnev includes additional terms to account for sidewalls and a

blunt cutting edge. 3 Qinsen models a curved bulldozer blade, and explicitly models surcharge

due to soil accumulation. 4 Zeng treats acceleration directly, rather than inertia.

of these two terms, implying that their contribution to total excavation resistance is of primary

importance. In fact, Wilkinson and DeGennaro show that, for the McKyes / Swick model (which

includes all five typical terms), the gravity term (referred to as the depth term in their paper)

and/or cohesion are the dominant contributions to total excavation resistance force over a very

broad range of operating conditions [73].

Compared to gravity and cohesion, adhesion and inertial forces tend to have minimal contribution

to excavation resistance force. Hettiaratchi and Reece note that the Na coefficient (for adhesion)

is small compared to the other Ni and that soil-tool adhesion is almost always smaller than

cohesion; they neglect inertial forces outright, arguing that cutting speeds are typically low [32].

Table 2.1 shows that adhesion and inertial terms are the two most often omitted from excavation

resistance force models.

15

The surcharge term can be used to account for soil that accumulates at the front edge of the bucket

during cutting. The surcharge increases as cutting proceeds. To account for this, Shmulevich [61]

models surcharge as:

q gx

(2.3)

where x is cut advance distance (and is soil density). Kobayashi [42], making different as

sumptions about the shape of the accumulating pile, proposes: q g dx where d is cut depth.

In both cases, surcharge increases with cut advance distance, linearly in the former and as the

square root in the latter. In both cases, the surcharge force is assumed to be only due to the

additional weight causing increased frictional shearing.

Qinsen [57], when modeling excavation with a bulldozer blade, accounts for soil accumulation directly. They model forces at steady state once soil accumulation has reached maximum

extent. The model considers not only the weight and frictional shearing of the cut soil, but also

its cohesion.

As discussed in Section 1.4.1, soil accumulation is particularly notable for discrete excavators such as front-end loaders and bulldozers. Section 2.2.1 discusses experimental results that

demonstrate how excavation resistance increases during discrete excavation, and relates these

results to the models discussed above.

Discrete Element Modeling (DEM) provides greater promise for high fidelity modeling of excavation. This approach explicitly models interactions between particles, and produces resultant

flow fields and stresses for these soil particles. DEM could therefore model how soil flows and

accumulates in a bucket. The goal of current research in DEM [9, 69] is to produce excavation

flow fields as well as calibrated resultant forces. Experiments providing quantified visualizations

16

of excavation will drive development and validation of DEM. Bui et al [14] have performed soil

footing failure experiments in reduced gravity to provide data for tuning their DEM model for

excavation.

This modern approach is still being developed, and is not ready to incorporate into system

development optimizations, let alone online prediction and control. DEM development is a field

of research in its own right, and is outside the scope of this work.

2.2

Classical excavation experiments pull blades and buckets through soil bins, measuring how excavation resistance and other variables are affected by changes in excavation parameters; a recent

example is work at NASA Glenn Research Center [2]. Controlled soil bin experiments have also

been conducted with bucket-wheels [36].

Agui shows that horizontal excavation resistance rises approximately linearly with cut distance,

as soil accumulates in a bucket [2]. These results agree with the general modeling assumptions

of Shmulevich presented in Section 2.1.3. Agui also showed though, that the shape and location

of a pile accumulating in a bucket is non trivially dependent upon time as well as cut depth, cut

angle, and possibly other parameters. Modeling soil accumulation in a bucket by a continuously

changing surcharge distribution is therefore difficult, and ideally would depend on knowing how

the soil flows as it enters the bucket.

A bulldozer blade also exhibits significant increase in horizontal force as surcharge increases

with cut distance, as demonstrated by King [39]. Comparing a variety of excavation models to

their data, they conclude that Qinsens model provides the best fit. This is not entirely unexpected, as Qinsens model was developed specifically for bulldozing (though one of the other

17

Figure 2.2: Gravity offload: a cable pulls up on an excavator with 5/6 its weight to simulate lunar

gravity

Controlled planetary excavation experiments make use of simulants that mimic the geotechnical

properties of Lunar or Martian soils. GRC-1 and GRC-3 are lunar simulants with properties

relevant for excavation [56]. JSC-1 is another lunar simulant often used for excavation experiments [18, 74]. JSC-1 has a particle size distribution that is similar enough to lunar regolith to

duplicate its compaction and relative density [83].

Simulating low gravity conditions is another important consideration for lightweight excavation experiments. Boles [13] showed that excavation resistance in 1/6 of Earth gravity (experienced during reduced gravity flights) could be anywhere between 1/6 and 1 of the resistance

experienced in full Earth gravity. Sample data shows excavation forces in 1/6 g that average 1/3

of the resistance in full Earth gravity.

Another way to simulate low gravity conditions (at least for the excavator if not the soil) is to

use a gravity offload mechanism. No excavator testing with gravity offload has been reported in

the literature to date.

18

2.3

excavation

A common result from literature that attempts to compare excavation forces predicted by various

models (e.g. [39, 73, 74]) is that the models yield disparate predictions. This makes it inprudent

to rely on any one model for estimating excavation forces. As Section 2.1 showed, however, the

models share common fundamentals that are instructive when investigating planetary excavation.

Any estimate of excavation resistance must take into account soil weight (and thus friction) and

cohesion. Surcharge is also very important, particularly for discrete excavation; the weight, and

perhaps cohesion, of the accumulating soil comprise this surcharge.

Muff [53] reports that the Luth & Wismer model was tested against Martian telemetry from

the Viking sampling digs (a claim seemingly based on personal correspondance with those who

performed the analysis), giving this model flight heritage in a sense. The lack of published

quantitative comparisons, however, compels caution in interpreting this claim.

2.4

Trade studies have examined the applicability of various excavation robot options, specifically

for lunar outpost site work. However, these studies assume several metric tons are available for

excavation equipment; this is unlikely to be the case in the short or even medium term. The trade

studies also restrict themselves to predefined configuration options, potentially missing novel

designs that could fare better than those considered.

Boles et al. [12] compares the probable required launch mass of several construction machine suites. The study concludes that typical terrestrial excavation machines would not be as

effective as tripod cranes, sweeper leveler/excavators, and other innovative vehicles. Abu El

Samids work [1] continues along the lines of Boles, concentrating on tradeoffs between autonomous and tele-operated operation and between single vehicle and team configurations. A

19

Configuration options

Boom cranes, track

dozers, haulers, drills,

clamshell

diggers,

sweeper

excavator/levelers

Same as Boles (controlled manually), or

teams of autonomous

bulldozers,

bucket

loaders, or bucket

wheels

Multipurpose excavator, auger, bucket

ladder, bucket wheel,

dragline,

overshot

loader,

pneumatic

vacuum, scraper

Metrics

Launch mass

Launch mass

power

efficiency,

maintainability

Selected option

All-purpose

super

cranes with drilling,

excavating,

leveling,

and hauling

capabilities

Team of autonomous

bulldozers

Ref.

[12]

Multipurpose excavator

[51]

[1]

Table 2.2: Trade studies examining options for large-scale lunar excavation (using several metric

tons of equipment) arrive at different conclusions, demonstrating the weakness of approaching

such a complex problem with a predefined set of solutions to choose from.

team of autonomous bulldozers is recommended for the task of berm building. Mueller and

Kings study [51] scores excavator designs on a number of quantitative and qualitative metrics

and decides a multi-purpose machine with bulldozing blade and excavator arm is most appropriate for lunar site work. The results of these trade studies are summarized in Table 2.2.

The aforementioned trade studies restrict themselves to predefined configuration options and

compare their relative merit for lunar operations; in that sense, they espouse a top-down approach

to configuration analysis. Each of the studies arrives at different conclusions regarding robot

designs. The varying results highlight effects of differing assumptions, models, and metrics

when approaching such a complex problem with a predefined set of solutions to choose from.

Assumptions of high mass machinery, as well as wide variability of the results, limit the

relevance of past trade studies to the development of lightweight robotic excavators. Metrics for

comparison of configurations in these studies are useful to consider, but the top-down approach

20

2.5

In recent years, several robot prototypes have been developed specifically for lunar excavation

and ISRU. There are tested, however, in full Earth gravity, so principles of lightweight excavation

are obscured. The taxonomy of mobile excavators introduced in Section 1.4.1 can be applied to

these robots as well, as seen in Figure 1.7. The figure shows samples of each of the following: a

bucket-wheel excavator, a bucket-ladder scraper, an open bowl scraper, as well as a loader and a

dozer.

Bucket-wheel excavators produce low resistance forces suitable for lightweight operation [36].

A past lunar bucket-wheel excavator prototype [52] has been configured like a trencher (see Figure 1.7). However, the small scale intended for the lightweight excavator made material handling

and tranfer prohibitively challenging [37]. A novel lightweight bucket-wheel excavator, with a

simplified material transfer approach, has been developed as part of this work and will be discussed in detail in Chapter 6. A Bucket-Drum Excavator, which is an adaptation of a bucket

wheel [17], has a novel regolith collection system with cutting buckets mounted directly around

the outside of the collection drum. Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot (RASSOR) has counter-rotating front and rear bucket drums, making it possible to balance horizontal

excavation forces [50]. Figure 2.3 shows a Bucket Drum Excavator as well as RASSOR.

Due to past difficulties encountered transferring regolith from bucket-wheel to collection

bin, bucket-ladders have gained favor [37]. Bucket-ladders use chains to move buckets along

shapeable paths, easing transfer to a collection bin. Winners of the NASA Regolith Excavation

Challenge and subsequent Lunabotics mining competitions (competitions where lightweight excavators must collect as much regolith simulant as possible in 15 to 30 minutes) have all employed bucket-ladder trenchers driven by exposed chains or flexible conveyors. However, exposed chains and conveyors fare poorly in harsh lunar regolith and vacuum, making them inap21

Figure 2.3: Adaptations of bucket-wheel excavation: Bucket Drum Excavator (left) and RASSOR (right)

Figure 2.4: Juno rover with a small load-haul-dump scoop that achieves only low payload ratio.

propriate for operation on the Moon.

Cratos [16] is an open bowl scraper with a central bucket between its tracks, as seen in

Figure 1.7. It can carry a payload ratio of approximately 30% (in Earth gravity). Although

terrestrial scrapers buckets extend laterally beyond the outside of the wheel track, the central

bucket mounting is a key feature that leads to Cratos being classified as a scraper here. Juno

rovers [67] can be equipped with front-end load-haul-dump scoops, though these scoops can

carry only a small fraction of the rovers mass in regolith (see Figure 2.4).

Other lunar and planetary excavator prototypes include NASAs Chariot with LANCE bulldozer blade and Centaur II with front-loader bucket. These machines are very high mass (on the

order of tonnes) and low payload ratio, making their relevance to lightweight excavation mis22

sions limited. Robots that excavate by filling up with regolith as they burrow into the ground

have also been proposed [44].

2.6

Lunar regolith is very strong below the top few centimeters from the surface [30]. The presence

of ice only makes this dense mass harder and more cohesive [27]. This has led researchers to

develop several methods to loosen regolith either prior to or during excavation.

Sture et al [40, 66] as well as Zacny et al [18] have shown that percussive/vibratory actuation

of diggins implements reduces excavation resistance forces. Specifically, percussion reduces

the shear strength of dry soil by removing the effects of soil dilatancy from the internal friction

angle along the shear failure boundary layer [28]. To date, the advantages of percussion have

been studied for bulldozers, small narrow scoops, and helical augers.

Gertsch et al. [29] have studied the applicability of cutterhead wheels and rippers for loosening frozen and compacted regolith in preparation for excavation. Iai showed that adding ripping

reduces total excavation energy (ripping + excavation) in soils with high density and low gravel

content [34]. An important contribution of Iais work is raising awareness of the often overlooked

contribution of gravel and rock content to excavation forces.

Bernold has suggesting using small explosive charges to loosen compacted regolith [8]. The

fact that these explosives are a consumable that cannot be manufactured in situ, though, limits

their applicability to ISRU missions.

2.7

The automation and tele-operation of earthmoving machines is a research field in its own right.

Singh [62] lists a taxonomy of the fields inter-related aspects: sensing, kinematic and dynamic

modeling, soil-tool interaction modeling [45], tool trajectory planning and control, and tele23

operation.

Dunbabin [22] investigates operating large-scale excavation machines in extra-terrestrial environments, and discusses operating modes ranging from manual, through various levels of abstracted tele-operation (remote, fly-by-wire, and copilot), to autonomous. Autonomous dig and

dump cycles are demonstrated (on Earth), with the goal of shifting as much control as possible

to the robotic excavator to avoid tele-operation challenges such as dealing with latency.

A theoretical lower bound on the round trip time of communications between the Earth and

the Moon, based on the speed of light and lunar perigee, is approximately 2.5 s. Even this amount

of latency makes direct remote control a psychologically tiring task for any expert operator,

which can greatly hamper the productivity of even the most capable machines [60].

The Lunokhod rovers were commanded directly via remote tele-operation from Earth. Despite the taxing effects of latency, the rovers regularly drove at speeds of 1 km/hr [38]. Of course,

the remote operators did not deal with any excavation tasks as the Lunokhods were not equipped

for them.

This work investigates aspects that arise when tele-operating bucket-wheel excavators. One

of the guiding principles is that continuous excavator configurations should lead to simpler control than discrete wide bucket excavators. A generalized investigation of autonomy for earthmoving equipment, beyond reviewing the literature, is outside the scope of this work.

2.8

Review of literature related to lightweight robotic excavation leads to the following conclusions:

There is no consensus on appropriate excavation force modeling for lunar excavation. However, it is instructive to rise above the fray of contrasting models and focus on their commonly

shared features. Any estimate of excavation resistance must take into account soil weight (and

thus friction) and cohesion. Surcharge is also very important, particularly for discrete excavation; the weight, and perhaps cohesion, of the accumulating soil comprise this surcharge. These

24

common features provide a theoretical framework for broadly predicting dependence on key

variables such as soil density and cohesion as well as gravity and cut depth.

Excavation resistance varies significantly during a cut as soil accumulates in the bucket, and

classical models can only approximate this effect. They fail to capture excavation soil flows.

Modern Discrete Element Modeling (DEM) shows promise in modeling excavation soil flows.

Past experiments have studied the effects of many excavation parameters, and have shown

that bucket-wheel excavators produce low resistance forces suitable for lightweight operation.

Only preliminary efforts have been made to study excavation forces in reduced gravity. Experiments with excavator prototypes simulating low gravity constitute a novel contribution to the

field of study.

The wide variability in configurations resulting from lunar excavation trade studies and prototype developments highlight the lack of consensus on appropriate configurations for lightweight

excavators. An anecdotal consensus is the fact that bucket-ladder trenchers have won the Regolith

Excavation Challenge and Lunabotics mining competitions each of the 4 times such competitions

were held [49].

25

26

The load-haul-dump cycle is central to lightweight robotic excavation tasks, as described in Section 1.2. This chapter will show that, for a nominally capable excavator, hauling productivity

dominates overall task performance. Payload ratio directly influences hauling productivity, making it an important design parameter.

Section 2.4 showed how excavator configuration trade studies utilizing a top-down approach

(i.e. comparing a predefined set of solutions) have produced widely varying results, limiting their

usefulness.

This work explores configurations for lightweight robotic excavators from the bottom up,

starting with system parameters that figure into analytical models of excavating and driving,

synthesizing them for analysis of task-level performance metrics. This approach distinguishes

design parameters (such as driving speed, payload ratio, or number of wheels) of appropriate

excavator configurations instead of picking between configurations themselves.

3.1

Regolith-moving machines are commonly characterized for elemental actions like digging or

driving [73], but it is also important to measure comprehensive performance combining digging

and driving. A task model is developed here for excavation tasks that includes digging, transporting, dumping, and shuttling for recharge (See Fig. 3.1).

The REMOTE (Regolith Excavation, MObility & Tooling Environment) task simulator [65]

27

Figure 3.1: Comprehensive task modeling for lunar site work that combines elemental actions of

digging and driving

, computes metrics including task completion time, production ratio (weight of regolith moved

per hour, normalized by robot weight), and production efficiency (weight of regolith moved per

unit of energy spent, normalized by robot weight), based on parameters describing the task, the

robotic system, and the environment. The novelty of comprehensive task simulation, combined

with sensitivity analysis, is that it identifies system parameters that are important for overall task

success. This determines what matters most for system design and tradeoffs.

Traction and excavation forces are modeled to determine admissible bucket geometries, and

transport and recharge times are estimated based on driving speed and power draw. Excavation

is assumed to occur on approximately flat ground (i.e. not digging on a large uphill or downhill

slope).

The underlying traction model is that of Bekker [7] and Wong [76], based on their empirical and

theoretical work. Net traction, also known as drawbar pull (DP), is obtained by calculating wheel

resistance and thrust.

28

because of the assumption of excavating on relatively flat ground. Bulldozing resistance is also

ignored; wheel bulldozing can be avoided with careful grouser design, as shown in Appendix B.

Following Bekker, compaction resistance of a single wheel, Ri , is estimated as:

Ri = b

kc

+ k

b

zin+1

n+1

Soil pressure-sinkage parameter values are based on estimates made for lunar regolith [30]:

kc = 1.4 kN/mn+1 , k = 820 kN/mn+2 , and n = 1. Wheel width is denoted b, and sinkage,

zi , is estimated as:

3Ni

zi =

b(3 n)(kc /b + k ) 2r

2/(2n+1)

where Ni is the normal load on a given wheel, and r is wheel radius. Slip sinkage is ignored,

for the sake of simplicity. New work in terramechanics [20] is developing modeling techniques

for slip sinkage which could be incorporated into future modeling work.

Wheel thrust, Hi , is estimated based on equations (and assumptions) presented by Bekker

and Wong:

Z0

Hi = rb (c + ((kc /b + k )(r(cos cos 0 ))n ) tan )

0

where c and are soil cohesion and internal friction angle, respectively, K is a shear deformation constant, j is wheel slip, and 0 = cos1 (1 z/r) is the angle from vertical to where

the wheel rim contacts level terrain, as shown in Fig. 3.2.

Within REMOTE, vehicle load is assumed to be evenly distributed between all wheels, so

drawbar pull is calculated as:

29

Figure 3.2: Wheel geometry terms. Wheel width, b, is into the page.

DP = Nw (Hi Ri )

where Nw is the number of wheels.

There is no consensus excavation resistance force model for lunar excavation, as discussed in

Chapter 2. REMOTE offers a choice of two underlying excavation models, Balovnev and LuthWismer. Balovnevs [4] is a 3-D bucket model developed from theory. It is of the fundamental

form proposed by Reece (discussed in Section 2.1). Luth-Wismer [46, 75] was developed empirically from separate experiments in cohesive clay and cohesionless sand. The Luth-Wismer

model represents an excavating bucket by a single plate, and may have been tested under Martian

conditions during the Viking missions [53]. The same parameters govern productivity, independent of the choice of model, as will be shown in Section 3.1.5.

Horizontal excavation resistances modeled by Luth and Wismer for (cohesionless) sand and

(cohesive) clay are:

FH,sand = gwl1.5

1.73

d

l sin

0.77

30

"

#

1.1

v2

d

1.05

+ 1.26 + 3.91

w

gl

Figure 3.3: Excavation geometry terms. Bucket/plate width, w, is into the page.

FH,clay

1.21

d

d

= gwl

l sin

"

#

!

1.21 0.121

0.78

11.5c

2v

v2

d

+ 0.065 + 0.64

0.055

gd

3w

w

gl

1.5 1.15

Bucket width is denoted w, cut depth is d, is the angle of the buckets cutting face (relative

to horizontal), and l is the length of cutting face interacting with the soil, as seen in Fig. 3.3. In

REMOTE, l is defined by d/ sin to avoid overconstrained geometry. The buckets horizontal

cut velocity is denoted v, and gravitational acceleration is g. Soil density is denoted , and c is

soil cohesion. Luth-Wismer does not explicitly include soil friction angle or external (soil-tool)

friction.

Balovnevs model includes typical force terms due to weight/friction, cohesion, and surcharge. It also includes additional terms: external friction contributes resistance on the bucket

sidewalls, and cutting edge thickness is also taken into account. The horizontal component of

excavation resistance is given by:

31

FH

1 sin

dg

+ c cot + gq + B (d l sin ) g

= wd(1 + cot tan )A1

2

1 + sin

eb g

1 sin

+ web (1 + tan cot )A2

+ c cot + gq + d g

2

1 + sin

dg

1 sin

+ 2sdA3

+ c cot + gq + B (d ls sin ) g

2

1 + sin

1 sin

dg

+ c cot + gq + B (d ls sin ) g

+ 4 tan A4 ls d

2

1 + sin

Common parameters are denoted the same as on page 31. The soil internal friction angle is

denoted , and is the external (soil-tool) friction angle. Surcharge is denoted q. Bucket side

thickness is s, side length is ls , eb is blunt edge thickness, and b is blunt edge angle. Ai are

non-dimensional coefficients specific to the model [4], and B is a boolean flag indicating if the

bucket is fully buried below soil level.

Within REMOTE, excavation is assumed to occur over a short distance, so that cut depth and

cutting face length do not change substantially. By this same assumption, traction parameters

that might in reality vary with time, such as slip, also remain constant for the duration of an

excavation cut. For longer cuts, one could account for soil accumulation by making surcharge

and/or cut depth depenedent on horizontal cut progress (and thus time).

Excavation with a forward-facing bucket is assumed, meaning the excavator can generate and

sustain an excavation force no greater than its net traction, or drawbar pull. Excavation at this

stall condition is subject to:

FH = DP

This equation is solved, by defining all parameters but one (for example, bucket width), to

find an admissable bucket geometry. The bucket is assumed to be of equilateral triangular prism

shape, as seen in Fig. 3.4. Combining this assumption with a bucket filling efficiency, b , gives

32

the volume of soil that can be excavated in a single cut:

1

V = b wl2 sin(/3)

2

To account for excavators that have secondary collection/dump beds, an overall payload capacity can be defined. In that case, several cuts may be required to reach capacity, and REMOTE

accounts for the time required for all of these cuts as well as the time for transfers from primary

bucket to collection bed.

Traction and excavation modeling describe the dig portion of a task, but as Fig. 3.1 shows,

a general task also includes transporting and dumping regolith. To account for these aspects

of tasks, REMOTE includes operational parameters such as average distance between dig and

dump, driving speed, area and depth of the desired excavation, and operational efficiency (percentage of time spent actually performing work, as opposed to waiting for commands or performing computations).

The number of robots performing a task, and the mass of each robot, are further system

design parameters.

33

Energy is expended by both driving and excavating. There is also baseline power that is always

being dissipated in communication, computation, and other avionics tasks, even when not performing physical work. Over the class of small vehicles studied (100 kg to 300 kg), this baseline

power is assumed to be the same for each vehicle. Only steady state power is considered during

each phase of a task.

Power expended during driving is modeled by:

Pdrive = KP d mgvd

driving power coefficient. The KP d coefficient captures and sums several sources of power dissipation. Power required to overcome wheel rolling resistance can be estimated as a percentage of

vehicle weight [55]. Internal machine losses (in bearings, for example) are also proportional to

weight (acting as a radial load). Even undulations in the terrain can be captured by multiplying

weight by the sine of a representative terrain angle. KP d can thus be used to account for rolling

resistance, internal losses, and terrain losses.

Excavation power draw is modeled by:

Pexcav = KP ex FH vex

power coefficient that is nominally 1. Driving power is also expended (with vd = vex ) during

excavation.

Dumping power is ignored, as dumping comprises a very small portion of the overall task.

Batteries are assumed to be the primary power source for excavation robots. Each vehicle

is assumed to have a constant fraction of mass budget for batteries, meaning larger vehicles are

34

able to store more energy than smaller ones. A battery charging time is included in the model.

This charge time does not include the time required to shuttle to and from the power plant, which

is accounted for separately in the same way that shuttling to and from a digging site is.

Batteries can potentially be charged during operation by additional power sources such as

onboard solar panels. Such an additional power source is modeled as a negative power draw, and

denoted within REMOTE as trickle power.

As the preceding sections show, modeling excavation tasks involves a large number of parameters

(over 25). A particularly instructive application of REMOTE is in performing sensitivity analyses

that compare the relative impact of variations in these parameters on output metrics. Here it is

not so much the values themselves of the calculated metrics that are paramount, but rather how

sensitive these calculations are to changes in system, concept of operations, and environmental

parameters.

Parameters for sensitivity analysis include system parameters (such as individual robot mass,

payload ratio, wheel radius, etc.) and concept of operations parameters (operational efficiency,

distance to recharge station, etc.) that could be variables in system/mission design. Sensitivity

analysis also includes regolith parameters (bulk density, cohesion, etc.) whose values are estimated within bounds. Each parameter is varied individually from its expected baseline value to

maximum and minimum values in turn. The resulting values of the metrics are calculated at each

variation. Although some parameters are not fully independent in reality, isolating each parameters individual contribution to productivity in this way is still a very useful guide for focusing

attention within such a broad design and operational space.

Sensitivity of production ratio to relevant parameters for an example berm building task is

presented in Figure 3.5 and Figure 3.6. The task involves shallow digging, to a total depth of

20 cm, over a large area (50 m diameter circle). Excavated material is moved to an arc along the

35

circle and dumped in a berm. Average distance between dig and dump is 25 m.

Figure 3.5 shows REMOTE sensitivity analysis results for the berm building task, with LuthWismer as the underlying excavation resistance model. Production ratio (mass of regolith moved

per hour, normalized by rover mass) is shown on the x-axis, while parameters that can affect it

are shown on the y-axis. Changing driving speed, from its baseline value of 20 cm/s to 50 cm/s,

for example, is predicted to increase production ratio from just over 2 to a little under 4. Driving

speed, payload ratio, and operational efficiency are predicted to have the strongest effects on

productivity. Other parameters, such as number of wheels and battery characteristics, have little

effect.

Figure 3.6 shows results for the same sensitivity analysis, but with the Balovnev excavation

model. Results broadly agree between the two models. Driving speed, payload ratio, and operational efficiency govern productivity. The next three most important parameters in the Balovnev

analysis are external friction angle, cohesion, and robot mass. Luth-Wismer also predicst cohesion and robot mass as the next two most important parameters (Luth-Wismer does not include

external friction angle).

These results demonstrate that task-level sensitivity analyses are not particularly dependent

on the choice of underlying excavation model. In both versions of the analysis, productivity

is governed by payload ratio, driving speed, and operational efficiency. These three parameters

figure prominently in the hauling part of excavation tasks, as will be discussed in Section 3.4. Cohesion and robot mass are also important parameters, and have been discussed in prior work [63].

In upcoming sections, additional sensitivity analysis is performed on parameters relevant to

a small robotic excavator, Lysander, and simulated results are compared to experimental data.

3.2

To develop effective lightweight robotic excavators, it is important to identify which design parameters have a significant effect on productivity. As described in the previous section, REMOTE

36

37

Figure 3.5: Sensitivity analysis using Luth-Wismer excavation model shows productivity governed by driving speed, payload ratio,

and operational efficiency

38

Figure 3.6: Sensitivity analysis using Balovnev excavation model shows productivity governed by driving speed, payload ratio, and

operational efficiency

Figure 3.7: Lysander is a robotic platform for sitework experimentation - shown here carrying

excavated lunar regolith simulant

simulations and analyses show that payload ratio (ratio of regolith payload mass to robot mass)

and driving speed govern the productivity of small robotic excavators; operational efficiency

also significantly affects productivity. The analysis also shows that other parameters, including

number of wheels, have little effect on productivity.

A prototype excavator, Lysander, enables experimental validation of sensitivity analyses as

well as of the simulator more broadly. Lysander is a low center-of-gravity scraper, and is shown

in Fig. 3.7 transporting excavated lunar regolith simulant.

Load-haul-dump experiments measure productivity of the lightweight robotic excavator, Lysander,

in controlled conditions. A sandbox was set up with an excavation area, a dump area, and obstacles, as seen in Fig. 3.8. The entire experimental area was on flat ground, with a board in the

dump area to keep dumped soil separate for measurement. The setup represents a general loadhaul-dump task, and the layout provided an efficient way to incorporate all major elements of the

task, including driving approx. 6 m (roundtrip), and making turns to avoid obstacles and align

39

Figure 3.8: Experimental setup for a comprehensive excavation task including digging, dumping,

and shuttling between the two

for dig and dump. The soil used in the experiments is a mixture of general-purpose play sand and

a uniformly fine silica sand. This soil is not a lunar simulant, but its granular nature allows it to

be modeled similarly to regolith. Furthermore, the soil has an internal friction angle between 39

and 42 degrees, and cohesion up to approximately 3 kPa; the values of these strength parameters

lie within the ranges measured for lunar regolith [30]. Internal friction angle and cohesion are

measured using direct shear tests (ASTM D3080). Results of these tests are shown in Fig. 3.9.

The experimental setup fixes some of the parameters studied in the REMOTE simulations.

Some physical robot parameters, such as wheel radius and mass, are fixed. Battery and recharge

parameters are omitted because tethered power enables rapid repetition of experiments. Strength

parameters, i.e. internal friction angle and cohesion, are known within confidence bounds (as

described above). Soil strength parameters are kept within tight bounds with consistent soil

preparation. Between each test run, the soil conditions were reset using a technique developed

40

150

100

50

50

100

150

Figure 3.9: Direct shear test results for soil used in Lysander experiments: Internal friction angle

of 39 to 42 degrees, cohesion of 0 to 3 kPa

at NASA Glenn Research Center. First, the soil is fully loosened by plunging a shovel approximately 30 cm deep and then levering the shovel to fluff the soil to the surface; this is repeated

every 15-20 cm in overlapping rows. Next, the soil is leveled with a sand rake (first with tines,

then the flat back edge). The soil is then compacted by dropping a 10 kg tamper from a height

of approximately 15 cm; each spot of soil is tamped 3 times. Finally, the soil is lightly leveled

again for a smooth flat finish.

Parameters that either varied during experiments, or were known only within bounds, are listed

on the y axis in Fig. 3.10. Aside from parameters already discussed (payload ratio, driving speed,

operational efficiency, number of wheels, and soil strength parameters: cohesion and friction

angle), cutting speed, slip, and shear deformation (K) could also potentially vary. While digging,

41

25 %

Payload ratio

50 %

18 cm/s

Driving speed

Operational efficiency

28 cm/s

65 %

80 %

3 kPa

Soil cohesion

10 cm/s

Cutting speed

30 cm/s

Shear deformation

1 cm

2.5 cm

Slip

60 %

90 %

39 deg

42 deg

4

Number of wheels

0

10

15

6

27

Production ratio (hr1)

Figure 3.10: Predicted sensitivity of Lysanders productivity to candidate experimental variables [65]. Payload ratio, driving speed, and operational efficiency govern productivity. Parameters that cannot be varied within experiments, such as fixed wheel radius, etc., are excluded.

soil accumulation increased excavation resistance. This higher resistance slowed progress (i.e.

cutting speed) due to increased slip. The ranges of values in cutting speed and slip account for

this variation. Shear deformation is a soil-specific parameter, which could not be measured for

these experiments. A range of possible values from 1 cm to 2.5 cm is considered, based on values

presented in literature for similar soils [33, 76].

Load-haul-dump task productivity is also dependent on driving distance between dig and

dump. This distance was kept the same for all experiments, at 3 m. This is at the low end

of distances that would be required for any long-term task (e.g. mining, trenching). Longer

distances would be expected to further increase the importance of payload ratio and driving

speed, as an even higher percentage of the task would be devoted to driving and transporting

regolith, as opposed to digging or dumping.

42

Figure 3.10 shows REMOTE sensitivity analysis results for parameters relevent to the experimentation campaign using Lysander. Production ratio (mass of regolith moved per hour,

normalized by rover mass) is shown on the x-axis, while parameters that can affect it are shown

on the y-axis. Changing Lysanders payload ratio in simulation, from its baseline value of 25% to

50%, for example, is predicted to increase production ratio from 15 to 27. As in earlier REMOTE

simulations for general lightweight excavators, payload ratio and driving speed are predicted to

have a strong effect on productivity while other parameters, such as number of wheels, are not.

The experimental campaign tested sensitivity of two high sensitivity parameters (payload ratio

and driving speed) and one low sensitivity parameter (number of wheels - on Lysander, the

two middle wheels can be removed with relative ease). Payload ratio was modified by simply

changing the amount of payload carried by the robot; this was implemented in practice by taking

either 1 or 2 cuts of soil to collect a payload ratio of 25% or 50%, respectively. Before taking a

second cut of soil, the soil from the first cut was shifted out of the way to the back of Lysanders

large bucket by tilting the bucket back. The large surface of the bucket and relatively shallow cut

angle, , kept the collected soil from sliding back to the front of the bucket during the second

cut. Clearing the cutting edge of the bucket in this fashion ensured similar excavation during

both cuts.

As operational efficiency was also predicted to be a relatively high sensitivity parameter, it

was monitored during each test. By maintaing operational efficiency within a range of 65%

and 80%, the expected effects of its variability were kept smaller than the expected effects of

varying payload ratio and driving speed, as Fig. 3.10 shows. Production ratio was measured

as the output for each test. Experimental test sets at each parameter setting were performed in

triplicate. Photos from a sample experiment are shown in Fig. 3.11, and results from all the tests

are summarized in Table 3.1.

43

Figure 3.11: Lysander at start location (top) and excavation area (bottom) during an experiment

44

Table 3.1: Experimental data from 4 sets of tests (each set in triplicate)

Test set

Baseline

Low speed

High payload

ratio

4 wheels

Speed

(cm/s)

Payload

ratio

No. of wheels

Operational

efficiency

Production

ratio (hr1 )

29

25%

73%

17.9

28

23%

66%

14.3

30

19%

72%

12.4

18

22%

75%

8.7

18

25%

77%

10.3

18

16%

80%

11.0

29

51%

76%

28.7

28

51%

72%

29.3

28

51%

72%

26.6

26

26%

77%

14.0

24

27%

79%

15.2

37

25%

74%

13.1

High payload ratio and low speed result in statistically significant differences in production

ratio relative to the baseline test set. Applying t-tests to the test sets, high payload ratio and

low speed results in p-values of 0.002 and 0.049, respectively. Both these parameters thus affect

productivity with 95% confidence of statistical significance (meaning there is less than 5% probability of the observed difference in productivity arising by chance, as opposed to there being a

real difference). Comparison of the 4 wheel tests with the baseline (6 wheels), on the other hand,

results in a p-value of 0.679, meaning no statistically significant difference in productivity was

observed.

3.3

Figure 3.12 (top) shows experimental results graphically, with error bars at each setting indicating

the standard error. The top bar extends from the mean production ratio value measured during

baseline tests (which had payload ratio at 25%), on the left, to the mean production ratio value

measured during tests with 50% payload ratio, on the right. The error bar around the right edge

45

represents the error in the tests with 50% payload ratio, while the error bar around the left edge

represents the error in the baseline tests. Similarly, the next bar extends from the mean production

ratio value measured during baseline tests (which had a driving speed of 28 cm/s), this time on

the right, to the mean production ratio value measured during tests with 18 cm/s driving speed,

on the left. The error bar around the baseline edge is the same as the bar above, because there

is only one set of baseline tests; these tests act as the baseline for each parameter change. For

the final parameter variation, the plot shows that not only is the mean production ratio achieved

with 4 wheels within the error for production with 6 wheels, but also the mean production ratio

achieved with 6 wheels is within the error for production with 4 wheels. This provides a visual

representation of the statistical results described in the previous section. For changes in payload

ratio and driving speed the error bars do not overlap, highlighting a stastistically significant

difference between these tests and the baseline. For changes in the number of wheels, the error

bars overlap fully and no statistically significant difference is observed.

The bottom of Fig. 3.12 shows simulated results for the same conditions as those tested

experimentally. This plot is a subsampling of Fig. 3.10, showing only payload ratio, driving

speed, and number of wheels.

The sensitivity to payload ratio, driving speed, and number of wheels observed experimentally aligns consistently with the simulated results. For each of the 4 test cases, the simulated

production ratio is within the error of the corresponding experimental case.

As described in previous sections, some modeling simplifications were introduced that do

not correspond exactly with all the details of the excavation tasks. Specifically, slip sinkage

is ignored, as is the time dependency of slip, cut depth (d) and cutting face length (l) during

digging. This makes it impossible to model the observed phenomenon of soil accumulation

(which increases effective d and l), and the subsequent increase in slip (which causes increased

sinkage and thus rolling resistance), using the current implementation of REMOTE.

The good correspondence between simulated and experimental results suggests that this mod46

25 %

Payload ratio

50 %

18 cm/s

Driving speed

28 cm/s

4

Number of wheels

0

10

6

15

25 %

Payload ratio

18 cm/s

Driving speed

27

1

Production ratio (hr )

50 %

28 cm/s

4 6

Number of wheels

0

10

15

27

Production ratio (hr1)

Figure 3.12: Top: Measured production ratio sensitivity to experimental variables. Bottom:

Production ratio sensitivity to experimental variables predicted by simulation. Experiments and

model show good correspondence. In both cases, payload ratio and driving speed have a significant effect on productivity, while number of wheels does not [65].

47

eling simplification did not diminish REMOTEs ability to predict excavator productivity for the

load-haul-dump task described in this work. Figure 3.10 shows that the effects of varying slip

are negligible for this specific task.

The effects of cut depth and slip on prodcutivity are somewhat more significant for trench

excavation, as simulations in prior work show [63]. This suggests that neglecting soil accumulation and slip sinkage may not be appropriate for all tasks, particularly ones involving deep

digging. Before applying REMOTEs modeling framework specifically to a deep excavation

task, additional experiments and possibly additional modeling are recommended.

A significant source of variability in the experimental results was the inability, in practice,

to keep operational efficiency precisely constant. A human tele-operator cannot replicate performance exactly between test runs. Errors were low enough to make clear observations, as

described above. Tighter error bounds, though, could increase the potential statistical power of

experiments. If such tighter bounds were to be required for future investigations, better control

over operational efficiency could be achieved with increased autonomy for the tests.

3.4

Experiments and simulations all show that payload ratio, driving speed, and operational efficiency govern the production ratio for lightweight robotic excavators. These parameters direcly

comprise the terms for hauling productivity:

Production ratio (hauling only) = op P v/d

where op is operational efficiency, P is payload ratio, v is driving speed, and d is hauling

distance. Note that hauling distance is not included as a parameter in above sensitivity analyses,

as it is dictated directly by a given task.

The prominence of the three hauling productivity parameters shows that hauling is the important part of load-haul-dump excavation tasks, in terms of productivity. In fact, hauling takes

up the vast majority of time in any of the tasks investigated, which is why improvements in this

48

area translate into the largest overall gains. An important underlying assumption leading to this

result is that the excavators in question can achieve a nominal level of excavation capability.

If an excavator gets stuck while digging, or must regularly correct and adjust its cuts, the time

spent digging would grow relative to time spent hauling. REMOTE does not model such potential problems, and they were not encountered in the experiments performed. Ensuring that basic

excavation capability is maintained is the subject of the next chapter.

3.5

Payload ratio, driving speed, and operational efficiency govern productivity of excavation tasks

by small robots. This has been shown using simulation and sensitivity analysis. Experiments using Lysander validate these sensitivity analysis results quantitatively, by varying driving speed,

payload ratio, and number of wheels and measuring output productivity. The task had a relatively short travel distance (3 m) between dig and dump. Longer distances would be expected

to only further increase the importance of payload ratio and driving speed, as an even higher

percentage of the task would be devoted to hauling regolith, as opposed to digging or dumping.

The overarching importance of payload ratio and driving speed is also consistent with simulated

berm building tasks.

The prominence of the three hauling productivity parameters shows that hauling is the important part of load-haul-dump excavation tasks, in terms of productivity. An important underlying

assumption in this result is that the excavators in question can achieve a basic level of excavation

capability. If an excavator gets stuck while digging, or must regularly correct and adjust its cuts,

the time spent digging would grow relative to time spent hauling. Ensuring that basic excavation

capability is maintained is the subject of the next chapter.

Experiments lend credence to simulated results and highlight the reality of some potentially

counter-intuitive findings. It may not be surprising that payload ratio and driving speed should

govern productivity, as making each load-haul-dump cycle faster and carrying more load each

49

time directly speed up the task. The relatively negligible effect of changing the number of wheels

is not necessarily obvious though; one might have thought that added traction could significantly

speed up the digging process and thus overall task productivity. Both experiment and simulation

suggest that optimizing a traction system is not the best place to expend efforts that should rather

be used maximizing speed and payload ratio.

These results suggest that high payload ratio and high driving speed be included as key features of any future lightweight robotic excavators.

REMOTE endevours to strike an appropriate balance between complexity and fidelity for

task-level modeling. Some aspects of excavation tasks are ignored, including wheel slip sinkage

and soil accumulation at the bucket cutting edge. The good correspondence between simulated

and experimental results suggests that these modeling simplifications are acceptable for for high

level analysis of load-haul-dump tasks.

50

excavation

The previous chapter assumed a nominal level of excavation performance; namely, that excavators could dig without stalling or impeding mobility. For this assumption to hold, excavation

resistance must be kept below excavation thrust. This chapter will show that resistance exceeding

excavation thrust can quickly lead to high slip and sinkage.

This chapter investigates the effects of light weight (both in terms of lower mass and reduced gravity) on excavation thrust and resistance. It demonstrates how soil cohesion has the

detrimental effect of increasing excavation resistance coefficient.

4.1

Excavator mass scales approximately as the cube of linear dimension. This is because mass is

related to a machines three-dimensional volume, while length, width, and height are each singledimensional. Fitting data for many terrestrial excavators of many scales [35] to a power law of

the form:

m = aw

one expects that 3. The fit yields exponents of 2.92 and 2.98 for the sample of terrestrial

loaders and scrapers, respectively (with R2 = 0.99 in both cases). In the formulation, m is

excavator mass, w is bucket width (treated as a characteristic length), and a are the power law

51

Figure 4.1: Excavator mass scales with the cube of bucket width, shown by the fact that the ratio

of these two quantities equals approximately 1.

exponent and coefficient, respectively. This approaches the idealized = 3 very closely. This

relationship is also illustrated by directly comparing the ratio of excavator mass to the cube of

bucket width in Figure 4.1. Each of the ratio values is normalized by the median value for easier

comparison. All values are within 15% of the median, with no obvious bias.

In this thesis, any changes in excavator mass are assumed to have corresponding changes in

scale according to the cubic relationship described here. This assumption does not hold for all

possible comparisons, particularly between terrestrial and planetary. Mass optimization may lead

to a planetary excavator with the same scale as a terrestrial one but with lower mass. However, the

more pertinent comparison in this work is instead between two or more planetary excavators. In

this case, all excavators being compared are already mass optimized, so the scaling relationship

is assumed to hold between them.

52

4.2

A vehicles drawbar pull is the net traction available for doing work, and is dependent upon slip

(or travel reduction). Slip is defined as:

Slip(%) = 100% 1

v

r

where v is the vehicles forward velocity, is the wheel angular speed, and r is the effective

wheel radius. In granular soils, effective radius is an equivalent radius where shear occurs between moving soil and static soil [21], which may not be well defined a priori. Compliant wheels

also introduce the possibility of time-varying wheel radius, further confounding measurement of

r and thus slip. For these reasons, an approximately equivalent parameter - travel reduction - is

used in the context of experimental wheel results, instead of slip. Travel reduction is defined as:

Travel reduction(%) = 100% 1

v

v0

where v0 is a baseline vehicle speed on flat ground, with no drawbar load applied. In any

comparisons of travel reduction, the same wheel angular speed is applied throughout.

Drawbar pull at 20% slip (or 20% travel reduction) is a good measure of tractive performance,

as pull begins to plateau around 20% slip for many wheels (or tracks) while negative effects

such as sinkage increase [68]. A non-dimensional quantity, P20 /W (Drawbar pull at 20% slip,

normalized by vehicle weight), has been used as a benchmark metric for lunar wheel performance

from the times of Apollo [24] to today [70, 80]. In this thesis, excavation thrust coefficient is

denoted T; under an assumption of tractive thrust, T = P20 /W .

The ratio P20 /W for any given wheel is approximately constant with changing load (i.e. W

changing but scale and gravity constant), up to a critical loading [24]. It is assumed that excavator

wheels are designed to ensure an excavator with full regolith payload loads the wheels less than

this critical point, so that T remains constant throughout a load-haul-dump excavation task.

Figure 4.2 shows the relationship between normalized drawbar pull (DP/W) and travel reduction for a set of compliant lunar-relevant tires at two different wheel loadings (980 N and 1790 N

per wheel). The value at which the curves cross 20% travel reduction, i.e. the excavation thrust

53

Figure 4.2: It is safest to keep wheel slip at or below 20%. Spring tires, for example, exhibit

very gradually rising travel reduction with increasing load until crossing above 20%, where travel

reduction jumps suddenly [NASA GRC].

coefficient T, is approximately the same in both cases (within 10% of one another). These tires

exhibit strongly nonlinear performance. Travel reduction increases very gradually with increasing load until it crosses above 20%, at which point it rapidly increases to unsafe conditions of

approximately 80% travel reduction. Other wheels experience similar non-linearities at approximately 20% to 30% slip [24]. To prevent unsafe slip and sinkage, drawbar pull should not exceed

T. The tires themselves are shown in Figure 4.3.

Reductions in T are predicted for both reduced gravity as well as reduced scale (and thus,

correspondingly, reduced mass). Figure 4.4 shows such predictions for a rigid wheel. Drawbar

pull vs. slip is calculated according to Bekkers equations, using the same procedure and assumptions described in Section 3.1.1. The baseline wheel (plotted in black) has a radius of 30 cm and

width of 15 cm, and is assumed to be for a 200 kg rover; the baseline condition is Earth gravity.

The same wheel and rover are used in the reduced gravity case (blue). The reduced mass case

(red) assumes a 33 kg rover, with wheel radius and width scaled to 17 cm and 8 cm, respectively,

according to the relationship presented in Section 4.1. In all cases, the internal friction angle is

54

Figure 4.3: Compliant, lunar-relevant spring tires on the Scarab robot [NASA GRC]

45 degrees. Results are plotted for cohesionless soil as well as soil with c = 3.8 kPa (at the high

end of estimates for lunar regolith).

Figure 4.4 shows that reduced gravity and reduced mass & scale are both predicted to decrease T (though the effect of gravity on T is somewhat mitigated in highly cohesive soil). In

other words, mobility performance decreases by more than just the decrease in weight when

either gravity or mass is reduced.

Kobayashis experiments with a rigid wheel in reduced-gravity flights also demonstrate that

lower gravity diminishes relative mobility performance [43]. Higher slip was observed in lower

gravity for otherwise identical test conditions.

4.3

coefficient

An excavators requirements for drawbar pull are driven by the excavation resistance it experiences while cutting soil. Chapter 2 showed that excavation resistance can be modeled in the

form:

55

100

90

90

80

80

70

70

60

60

slip (%)

slip (%)

100

50

50

40

40

30

30

20

20

10

10

0.2

0.4

0.6

0.8

DP/W

0.2

0.4

0.6

0.8

DP/W

Figure 4.4: Reducing gravity or wheel scale decreases the excavation thrust coefficient, T. Predicted T in cohesionless soil (left) and soil with c = 3.8 kPa (right), for a baseline rigid wheel

(black), the same wheel in 1/6 gravity (blue), and a 1/6 mass scaled wheel (red). The circles on

the slip-DP/W curves indicate T (on the DP/W axis) for each case.

Fex = N gwd2 + Nc cwd

where gravitational acceleration is denoted g, is soil density, d is cut depth, w is cut width,

and c is cohesion. The Ni are non-dimensional coefficients pertaining to each of the sources of

force. Soil-tool adhesion and inertial forces are ignored due to their insignificant contributions.

Surcharge is treated separately in Section 4.3.1.

Of interest is how Fex and F (excavation resistance coefficient, Fex /W ) vary in light weight

operation. If we first consider cohesionless soil (c = 0), the simple excavation resistance model

above predicts constant excavation resistance coefficient. F simplifies to:

N gwd2

F =

mg

N wd2

=

m

In this case F is no longer dependent on g, so it remains unchanged by a reduction in gravity.

Section 4.1 showed that mass varies as the cube of scale for excavators; reducing mass to a

fraction of the original (X) is equivalent to shortening linear dimensions to the cube root of that

fraction ( 3 X). Mass reduction thus also results in an unchanged F for cohesionless soil:

56

N gwd2

F =

mg

N wd2

=

m

N ( 3 Xw0 )( 3 Xd0 )2

=

Xm0

3

N ( X)3 w0 (d0 )2

=

Xm0

N w0 (d0 )2

=

m0

= F0

On the other hand, in a purely cohesive soil (N = 0) F is sensitive to changes in weight. In

this case Fex is independent of g:

Fex = Nc cwd

In reduced gravity, Fex remains unchanged while weight reduces proportionally. In other

words, a reduction in gravity to 1/6 results in a six-fold increase in F in purely cohesive soil.

Reducing mass has a slightly more complex effect on F due to the relationship with length

scaling:

Nc cwd

F =

mg

Nc c( 3 Xw0 )( 3 Xd0 )

=

Xm0 g

Nc cw0 d0

=

3

Xm0 g

F0

=

3

X

57

Figure 4.5: Reducing gravity to 1/6 or mass to 1/6 does not decrease excavation force to 1/6 if

the soil is cohesive. Effects of reduced weight on Fex and F depend on the proportion of original

excavation force from cohesion.

Soils with both frictional and cohesive properties exhibit a mix of the weight effects described

above, depending on the proportion of Fex due to cohesion. Figure 4.5 shows the effects of

reducing gravity to 1/6 or mass to 1/6, with dependence on cohesion. Effects on Fex and F

are both plotted, on the left and right y-axis, respectively, as each of these related metrics is

convenient to discuss in certain contexts. What is apparent from the figure is that reducing

weight (either by reducing gravity, mass, or both) increases F in any soil with cohesion.

Another important observation is that reducing an excavators scale magnifies the effects of

cohesion. Because the gravity term in Fex includes a product of 3 lengths (wd2 ) while the

cohesion term just 2 (wd), reductions in scale lower the gravity contribution more than they

lower the cohesion contribution. A related analysis with similar conclusions was put forward

by Zacny et al [81].

This analysis also provides a potential explanation for results observed by Boles et al [13].

When they compared excavation resistance forces measured in Earth gravity to resistance forces

measured during 1/6 gravity parabolic flights (for otherwise identical experiments), they were

58

puzzled that excavation forces reduced to an average of 1/3 the original force, rather than 1/6.

Figure 4.5 suggests that this simply implies that cohesion contributed approximately 20% of the

resistance force in the Earth gravity experiments. As the soil used in these tests was JSC-1 lunar

simulant, with a documented cohesion as high as 14.4 kPa [41], this is not a surprising result.

Agui shows that longitudinal excavation resistance rises approximately linearly with cut distance,

as soil accumulates in a discrete bucket [2]. This agrees with the general modeling assumptions

of Shmulevich [61], as discussed in Sections 2.1.3 and 2.2.1. Experiments conducted as part of

this research also show approximately linearly increase in F with payload accumulation, as will

be shown in Section 4.4.4.

It is pertinent here to consider how the slope of this linear increase in F with increasing

payload is affected by reductions in gravity or mass. This slope is denoted dF /dP . Shmulevich

and Kobayashi both assume surcharge is caused only by the weight of the accumulating soil (see

Section 2.1.3). Plugging Shmulevichs surcharge model (Equation 2.3) into Reeces fundamental

earthmoving equation (2.1 and 2.2) results in a surcharge contribution of the form:

Fex,q = N gwdx

(4.1)

where x is the cut distance and N is a dimensionless coefficient. Payload also increases

with cut distance according to the density and volume of cut soil (gwdx), leading to a dF /dP

independent of g or length scaling:

59

dF /dt

dF

=

dP

dP /dt

Wrobot 1 dFex /dt

=

Wrobot 1 gwdx

dFex,q /dt

=

gwdx

N gwdx

=

gwdx

= N

However, this conclusion hinges on the form of Fex,q proposed by Shmulevich, which assumes that surcharge force depends only on the weight of accumulated soil, and not its cohesion.

Meanwhile, there are in fact reasons to believe cohesion plays a part in surcharge force.

Qinsen [57] demonstrates a precedent for considering cohesive surcharge. They model excavation for a bulldozer blade, accounting for soil accumulation directly. The model considers

not only the weight of accumulating surcharge, but also its cohesion. The models other aspects

relating it specifically to a curved bulldozer blade make it more complex than is expedient for

direct analysis here.

Surcharge models such as Shmulevichs and Kobayashis assume all surcharge force is due

to pressure applied (by accumulating soil) from above original ground level. Soil shearing below

ground level, accounted for by the gravity (frictional) and cohesive shear, is assumed to be unaffected by soil accumulation above. In reality, though, the two are not independent. Figure 4.6,

with photos by Shmulevich [61], shows how the shear plane failure angle (which can be measured from the photos) changes as soil accumulates. Early in the cut (displacement 5 mm, left),

the failure angle is just under 30 degrees; later (displacement 70 mm, center) it is approximately

25 degrees; finally (displacement 140 mm, right) it is less than 20 degrees. As cut depth is kept

constant, this shallower angle results in a final shear plane over 50% larger than at the start of the

cut. As shearing along the failure plane is both frictional and cohesive, it stands to reason that

60

Figure 4.6: Soil accumulation not only adds pressure from the weight of the soil, but also increases the size of the shear failure plane below the surface, as measured in a photo by Shmulevich [61]

Reduced gravity

Reduced mass / scale

Cohesionless (c = 0)

Constant

Constant

Cohesive (c 6= 0)

Large increase

Small increase

Table 4.1: Predicted effects of light weight on both F and dF /dP , depending on soil properties

cohesive forces thus arise at least indirectly with increasing surcharge.

Analyses analagous to those conducted in the previous section for cohesive soils suggest that

cohesive contributions to surcharge would lead to the slope dF /dP increasing with decreasing

gravity and/or mass. Testing this cohesive surcharge hypothesis experimentally is suggested as

future work.

4.4

Table 4.1 summarizes the predicted effects of light weight on both F and dF /dP , based on

analyses presented above. The top-right quadrant describes conditions during experiments by

Boles et al [13]. Although they were not explicitly testing the hypothesis presented here, their

results qualitatively agree. Experiments in conditions shown in the bottom-left quadrant are the

subject of this section. Experiments covering the remaining two quadrants are recommended as

future work.

61

Figure 4.7: Bucket-wheel dimensions: wheel diameter D (A), blade width w (B), and blade

tangent extension e (C)

Experiments with bucket-wheels (BWs) and flat-plates (FPs) of various scales were conducted

in cohesionless soil, GRC-1 [56], studying the effects of scaling on continuous and discrete excavation, respectively. The bucket-wheel experiments were conducted jointly with Diaz Lankenau [19].

To study the effects of length scaling (and thus the related mass scaling), 4 sizes each of

bucket-wheels and flat-plates were tested. All aspects of the test implements with a length dimension were scaled proportionally. For BWs this includes: wheel diameter D (A), blade width

w (B), blade tangent extension e (C), cut depth, and advance speed. Angular speed, number of

blades, and blade thickness were kept constant. A, B, and C are shown in Figure 4.7. For FP

tests, scaled parameters include: plate width, plate length l, and advance speed (blade thickness

again kept constant). Dimensions for bucket-wheels and flat-plates are summarized in Table 4.2.

Note that production rate, which can be approximated by wdv (where is soil density, w

is cut width, d is cut depth, and v is advance speed), is consistent between bucket-wheels and

flat-plates of the same scale. In fact, the scaling ensures that production ratio (production rate

normalized by a representative excavator mass) is constant between all tests.

62

Scale

1.0

1.3

1.7

2.3

v

0.07 cm/s

0.10 cm/s

0.13 cm/s

0.17 cm/s

BW D

27.6 cm

36.8 cm

48 cm

63 cm

BW w

5.7 cm

7.4 cm

9.8 cm

13 cm

BW d

BW e

2.0 cm 4.6 cm

2.7 cm 6.2 cm

3.5 cm 8.2 cm

4.7 cm 10.9 cm

FP w

11.4 cm

14.8 cm

19.6 cm

26 cm

FP d

FP l

1.0 cm 5.8 cm

1.3 cm 7.5 cm

1.7 cm 9.8 cm

2.3 cm 13.2 cm

Wrobot

54 N

124 N

283 N

645 N

Table 4.2: Scaled dimensions of bucket-wheel (BW) and flat-plate (FP) test implements

All bucket-wheels share the same dodecagon-shaped hub designed to hold one L-shaped

blade extending out on each of its 12 sides, as shown in Figure 4.8. Each blade is cut and bent

from 1.6mm (1/16 in.) thick aluminum. Flat plates are cut from the same thickness aluminum,

and are bent to a cutting angle of 10 degrees below horizontal.

The scaling of advance speed and bucket-wheel diameter, with angular rate kept constant,

results in a tangential bucket-wheel cutting speed 5 times the advance speed during each test.

Cutting speeds were low enough that no dynamic effects need be considered. These values never

exceeded 1 cm/s (measured as the sum of advance speed plus tangential speed).

Soil density is an important parameter of lunar regolith [15]. It also influences tool-soil interaction and must be controlled for repeatable experimental results [3]. There is direct interdependence of density with state of compaction and stress history [31], both of which can be modified

63

during soil preparation. Resistive forces encountered during penetration and cutting of soil are

of similar nature [82]. It is common to use a penetrating device to estimate cutting resistance in

the field; soil parameters can be determined from such experiments if tools are selected appropriately [3].

Penetration tests were done on GRC-1 prepared to different densities to determine the necessary level of compaction. GRC-1 that is too loose may have unpredictable behavior due to the

random localization of large voids in the soil. The test consisted of slowly increasing the vertical

load on a 3.8 cm diameter cylinder penetrating the soil surface until a depth of 7.5 cm is reached.

Throughout the movement of the cylinder load vs. sinkage data was collected and analyzed.

GRC-1 is expected to have a soil constant n of approximately 1.2 [56], which means that penetration pressure should increase almost linearly with depth. Linear behavior was observed during

experimentation when compaction was done by ten tamps or more with a 20 x 20 cm 6.7 kg steel

plate.

Not only are the pressure-sinkage results for the compacted (with 10 tamps) soil more linear,

they are also more consistent. Linear regression on each test with ten tamps gives an R2 value

of at least 0.987. The average soil stiffness constant is 2778 kPa/m with a standard deviation of

157 kPa/m; for loose soil those same values are 1625 kPa/m and 418 kPa/m respectively. For

these slopes an n soil constant of 1 was used. Plots for five penetration tests each in loose soil

(Figure 4.9) and compacted soil (Figure 4.10) are shown. A vertical offset between experiments

is due to preload sinkage and is not the main concern in testing. Obtaining similar slopes between

experimental runs was the main objective.

All tests were done on GRC-1 lunar regolith simulant contained in a 115 x 68 x 27 cm soil bin.

A consistent soil preparation procedure was followed before each test. First, soil was loosened using a gardening spade. The loose soil surface was made flat by dragging a straight-edged

64

Figure 4.9: Penetration curves for loosened soil showing wide variability. Each line is one

experimental run.

Figure 4.10: Penetration curves for compacted soil showing consistent linear response. Each line

is one experimental run.

65

tool across it. To check if the soil surface was horizontal a digital level was placed length-wise

on it. To be accepted as flat horizontal soil the measured angle must be less than 0.5 and the level

flush with the soil surface all through its 61 cm length. The soil was modified as necessary until

it lay in a satisfactory way, by leveling with the straight-edged tool. The entire surface of the soil

was compacted by tamping with a 20 x 20 6.7 kg steel plate with a handle attached to it. Each

tamp is achieved by dropping the steel plate from a 5-6 cm height; subsequent tamps overlap

each previous one with approximately 30%.

The steel plate is roughly one third of the width of the soil bin so three side-by-side lanes

were tamped, for a total width of 60 cm. By executing the compaction procedure along these

lanes ten times it was guaranteed each part of the soil surface would be compacted by at least ten

tamps.

Each bucket-wheel and flat-plate test implement was tested at least 3 times, measuring the

force and torque generated during excavation. Test implements were advanced for a distance of

25 cm, using an actuated axis on the soil bin. Before starting each test the test implement was

raised above the prepared soil and the load cell was biased. Load cell data collected commenced

once test implements were set to the correct depth.

Bucket-wheels advanced perpendicularly to the axis of rotation at a fixed depth and speed

through the center of the soil bin. Reaction loads were measured using a 6-DOF Force/Torque

load cell to which the BW motor was mounted. The BW was then set to rotate and gradually

lowered into the soil until the desired depth had been reached. To measure depth a ruler was

fixed to the arm holding the BW (as seen in Figure 4.11, left) and vertical distance from the BW

axle to a 3 mm thick clear plastic plate resting on the soil was measured. Once the BW was set to

the right depth, the BW set to rotate and advance. As the BWs do not have side-walls to contain

the soil they excavate a shop vacuum cleaner was used to remove soil from each blade just as it

fully cleared the soil surface.

Flat plates were also advanced through the center of the soil bin (Figure 4.11, right). Reaction

66

Figure 4.11: Experimental setup for measuring excavation resistance forces of bucket-wheels

(left) and flat-plates (right)

loads were again measured using a 6-DOF Force/Torque load cell to which the angled plate was

mounted. The plate was lowered in a space where soil was cleared away to the required depth.

Depth was measured similarly to the procedure for BWs. Once the FP was set to the right depth,

it was advanced through the soil.

Theory developed above suggests F and dF /dP stay constant when excavation implements are

scaled in cohesionless soil. Bucket-wheel and flat plate excavation resistance was measured at

4 separate scales, with these scales defined in Table 4.2. Each BW and FP was tested at least

3 times, measuring the force and torque generated during excavation. Non-dimensionalized test

data enables the comparison of F and dF /dP at each scale. To non-dimensionalize, Fex test data

was normalized by an assumed Wrobot for each scale, as listed in Table 4.2. The absolute values

67

of these weights are somewhat arbitrary, but are estimated to be reasonable for the given lengths;

the most important thing to note is that the weights are scaled according to the cube of length

dimensions, as described in Section 4.1. The time scale is also non-dimensionalized in the test

data to correspond to a payload ratio accumulation (again normalized by the assumed Wrobot for

each scale).

Figure 4.12 shows experimental results from bucket-wheel and flat-plate tests at each of the

4 scales. Raw data from multiple runs at the same scale are overlaid with a linear regression of

combined test data. The data shows how bucket-wheel excavation resistance is bounded, while

it rises approximately linearly with accumulating payload for flat-plate excavation. Variability

around this linear rise also tends to increase as a flat-plate cut proceeds. Figure 4.13 shows the

same linear regressions all plotted on the same non-dimensionalized axes. Qualitatively, it shows

no obvious trend in F or dF /dP with changes in scale for either bucket-wheels or flat-plates.

Excavation resistance force scaling is also analyzed quantitatively by fitting raw (unnormalized) force data to a power law vs. scale:

Fex = aS

where S is scale and a and are the power law coefficient and exponent, respectively. For

constant F and dF /dP , one expects 3, as Fex needs to scale cubically to keep pace with

cubically increasing weight.

For bucket-wheels, mean force from each test is used for the fit. Figure 4.14 shows the mean

force data and the power law modeled to fit them. The best fit predicts = 2.73, with a 95%

confidence interval for of [2.5, 3.0]. For flat-plates, two seperate fits are calculated for the

excavation resistance force at the start of a cut, denoted F0 and shown in Figure 4.15, and for

the rate of force increase, dF/dt (Figure 4.16). The best fit for F0 is = 2.36 (95% confidence

[1.9, 2.9]), and for dF/dt it is 3.05 (95% confidence [2.7, 3.4]). The fits for bucket-wheel F and

flat-plate dF/dt are close to 3. For flat-plate F0 , is somewhat low and has a wide confidence

interval; this may be due to experimental procedure. As described in Section 4.4.3, soil was

68

0.08

0.08

0.06

0.06

0.04

0.04

0.02

0.02

0

0

Fex/W

Fex/W

0.1

0.02

0.04

Payload ratio

0

0

0.06

0.1

0.1

0.08

0.08

0.06

0.06

Fex/W

Fex/W

0.1

0.04

0.04

0.02

0.02

0

0

0.02

0.04

Payload ratio

0

0

0.06

0.02

0.04

Payload ratio

0.06

0.02

0.04

Payload ratio

0.06

Figure 4.12: Discrete flat-plate excavation resistance (blue) increases without bound, while continuous bucket-wheel excavation resistance (red) remains low and bounded. Plots show excavation resistance coefficient, F , vs. payload ratio accumulated, P , in cohesionless soil at 4 different

scales: 1.0 (top-left), 1.3 (top-right), 1.7 (bottom-left), and 2.3 (bottom-right). Raw data and linear regression shown.

69

0.1

Fex/W

0.08

0.06

0.04

0.02

0

0

0.02

0.04

Payload ratio

0.06

Figure 4.13: Discrete flat-plate excavation resistance (blue) increases without bound, while continuous bucket-wheel excavation resistance (red) remains low and bounded. The trends in excavation resistance coefficient, F , vs. payload ratio accumulated, P , are unaffected by scaling

(ranging from 1.0 up to 2.3) in cohesionless soil. Linear regressions shown.

70

12

10

8

6

2

0

1.2

1.4

1.6

1.8

Length scale

2.2

Figure 4.14: Scaling of mean bucket-wheel excavation resistance force. Best fit power law

exponent = 2.73 (compared to a predicted value of approximately 3)

cleared away to enable lowering the flat-plate to the required depth. Variability in this clearing

could lead to the plate first engaging soil at slightly different times between tests, and this shift

in data along the time axis introduces error into measurement of the intercept, F0 .

4.5

resistance

Excavation is more difficult on planetary surfaces, especially on the Moon, than it is on Earth.

Lightweight operation with small robots and/or in reduced gravity disproportionately reduces

excavation thrust while also increasing excavation resistance disproportionately in cohesive lunar

regolith. For these reasons, excavation in Earth gravity (even with a robot of relevant scale in a

regolith simulant) overpredicts the performance of excavators in reduced gravity.

The ratio P20 /W is an appropriate metric to use for excavation thrust coefficient, T, when

assuming thrust is generated through traction. When slip goes above 20%, the mobility of most

wheels can degrade rapidly; maintaining drawbar pull low enough to keep slip below 20% satis71

9

8

7

F0

6

5

4

3

2

1

0

1.2

1.4

1.6

1.8

Length scale

2.2

Figure 4.15: Scaling of flat-plate excavation resistance force intercept. Best fit power law exponent = 2.36

0.014

0.012

dF/dt

0.01

0.008

0.006

0.004

0.002

0

1.2

1.4

1.6

1.8

Length scale

2.2

Figure 4.16: Scaling of the slope of flat-plate excavation resistance force. Best fit power law

exponent = 3.05

72

fies the assumption that an excavator maintains nominal capability during digging. T = P20 /W

is approximately constant with changing load, for a given wheel with scale and gravity kept constant. On the other hand, T is predicted to decrease for reduced gravity and for reduced mass &

scale. Kobayashis experiments support this prediction for reduced gravity [43].

The excavation thrust coefficient, F , is bounded in continuous excavation, and increases

approximately linearly with payload accumulation in discrete excavation. F and dF /dP for

cutting cohesive soil are predicted to increase for reduced gravity and for reduced mass & scale.

Boles experiments support this prediction for F in reduced gravity [13]. In cohesionless soil, F

and dF /dP are predicted to remain constant; this is supported by experimentation herein.

Further study of mobility and excavation in reduced gravity flights is recommended. Additional scaling experiments studying wheel traction as well and excavation in cohesive soils are

also suggested for future work.

73

74

All excavators have a lightweight threshold in the operating space, below which their productivity is limited by virtue of lacking the weight to produce enough thrust to overcome excavation

resistance. This threshold is crossed at lower weights for continuous excavators than discrete

excavators. The lightweight threshold is described by a non-dimensional quantity that relates

payload ratio, excavation resistance, and excavation thrust.

The lightweight threshold arises from the fact that mobility can quickly degrade if excavation

resistance surpasses excavation thrust, as shown in the previous chapter. An excavator that has

crossed this threshold is operating in the lightweight regime.

5.1

An excavator is operating in the lightweight regime if excavation thrust is less than excavation

resistance at any point during digging; i.e., an excavator that produces thrust through traction is

in the lightweight regime if at any point:

(5.1)

Both thrust and resistance depend on the amount of payload collected. The ratio P20 /W

can be assumed to be constant, as discussed in Section 4.2, and equates to the excavation thrust

coefficient, T, so:

75

P20 = TW

Note that W is total weight:

W = Wrobot + Wpayload

Inequality (5.1) thus becomes:

Normalizing both sides by empty robot weight, Wrobot , leads to:

T(1 + P ) < F

Defining a lightweight number, L, distinguishes the lightweight operating regime when:

T(1 + P )

<1

F

(5.2)

The dependence of F on P has been discussed in Chapters 2 and 4, and can be represented

by a linear approximation. Figure 5.1 shows the straight-line approximations of F (P ) for both

continuous and discrete excavation. Agui et al. also found that, equivalently, Fex (x) can be

approximated by straight lines for discrete excavation [2]).

Denoting this linear approximation by:

F = F0 + F P

with F shorthand for dF /dP . Factoring out F0 and substituting into (5.2) leads to:

76

Figure 5.1: F 0.9 for discrete excavation, which is substantially higher than both F0,disc

and F0,cont ; as a result, continuous excavators achieve higher lightweight numbers, L, and are

thus more suitable for lightweight operation. Plot shows excavation resistance coefficient, F ,

vs. payload ratio accumulated, P , for continuous (red) and discrete (blue) excavation at equal

production rate. Raw data and linear regression shown.

L=

T(1 + P )

F0 (1 + F P )

(5.3)

F0

The accumulation of payload has opposite effects on L for continuous and discrete excavators.

The most challenging operating point for continuous excavators is at the start of a cut, after which

digging gets easier. On the other hand, for discrete excavators digging becomes more difficult as

cutting proceeds.

= 0. Substi-

Lcont =

T(1 + P )

F0,cont

In this case, adding payload (i.e. increasing P ) increases L. Additional payload pushes

continuous excavators away from the lightweight regime.

77

min(Lcont ) =

T

F0,cont

(5.4)

For discrete excavation, L decreases with increasing P as long as F /F0 > 1. In reality,

Fdisc

is greater than F0,disc by between 1 and 2 orders of magnitude (again, see Figure 5.1 and

Agui [2]). This means that additional payload pushes excavators towards the lightweight threshold. The theoretical lower bound (as P ) for discrete L approaches:

min(Ldisc ) =

T

F

Even with an assumption of P = 0.5 (which is more realistic, as discussed in Section 1.4.2):

min(Ldisc ) <

3T

F

(5.5)

Finally, another observation that can be drawn from Figure 5.1 is that Fdisc

is orders of mag-

nitude greater than F0,cont , at equivalent production ratios. Meanwhile, a factor of just 3 ensures a higher lightweight number, L, for the continuous configuration (for the practical case of

P = 0.5). This higher margin on L enables continuous excavator weight to be reduced further

than for discrete excavators, before crossing the lightweight threshold.

being larger than

F0,cont . In the experiments discussed in Section 4.4, as well as in those discussed below in

is orders of magnitude larger than F0,cont . Although these two distinct examples

do not prove the result generally, they strongly suggest that it likely holds in all but the most

degenerate of cases.

78

5.2

Novel experimentats are described here that for the first time subject excavators to gravity offload (a cable pulls up on the robot with 5/6 its weight, to simulate lunar gravity) while they

dig. Although not fully representative of excavation on planetary surfaces (where the regolith is

also subject to reduced gravity), these experiments are better tests of planetary excavation performance than testing in Earth gravity. The experiments demonstrate the disproportionate effects

of reduced gravity on discrete excavation, compared to continuous excavation, predicted in the

preceding section.

Testing in Earth gravity is an inadequate evaluation of planetary excavators, as it overpredicts

excavation performance relative to reduced gravity. Operation in reduced gravity reduces excavation thrust coefficient while also increasing excavation resistance coefficient in cohesive lunar

regolith. The most representative test environment is a reduced gravity flight, where excavator

and regolith are both subject to reduced g [13, 43]. Future research on lightweight excavation

would benefit from testing in reduced gravity flights. Opportunities for such tests are infrequent,

though, and their scale (both spatially and temporally) is severely constrained by the logistics of

the flights.

Another class of tests reduces the weight of the robot, but not the regolith. NASA JPL runs

mobility tests for the Curiosity rover using a full geometric scale 3/8th mass SCARECROW

rover [71]. SCARECROW is comprised of the chassis and mobility subsystems and preserves

center of gravity location. SCARECROWs 3/8th mass loads the wheels with an equivalent

weight to the full mass Curiosity rover in Mars gravity. For equivalent testing for lunar conditions, a full geometric scale 1/6th mass rover would be required; this is very little mass even for

only the suspension and mobility subsystems. Another way to achieve equivalent results is to

use a full mass robot, but to offload gravity (see Section 2.2.2); this is the approach used in this

work.

Testing with reduced robot weight in Earth gravity may not exhibit the same mobility per79

formance as planetary driving, where the regolith is also subject to reduced gravity [79]. It

may in fact overpredict traction for scenarios governed by the ratio P20 /W , such as pulling and

slope climbing. Terramechanics models and experiments both suggest that P20 /W is approximately constant with changing load (i.e. changing W but keep scale and gravity constant, as

with SCARECROW or gravity offload). Meahwhile, they suggest that changing W by reducing

gravity reduces P20 /W , as discussed in Section 4.2.

On the other hand, reducing robot weight but not regolith weight makes excavation more difficult than is to be expected in reduced gravity. Longitudinal soil-tool interactions are not directly

affected by reduced robot weight, so Fex remains constant. Reducing weight to 1/6 thus directly

inceases Fex /W sixfold. For planetary excavation, this corresponds to the worst possible case

of purely cohesive regolith. As neither lunar nor Martian regolith is purely cohesive, excavation

resistance on these planetary surfaces in not expected to scale so poorly.

Excavating with gravity offload thus underestimates the detrimental effects of gravity on

traction, but overestimates the detrimental effects on excavation resistance. Though not ideal,

this is a more balanced test than excavating in Earth gravity, which underestimates detrimental

effects on both traction and resistance.

To explore the differences in lightweight thresholds for continuous and discrete excavation, gravity offloaded excavation experiments were conducted at NASA Glenn Research Centers (GRC)

Simulated Lunar OPErations (SLOPE) lab. The facility contains a large soil bin with GRC1 [56] lunar simulant. Continuous bucket-wheel and discrete bucket excavation was performed

using the Scarab robot (for a detailed description of the robot, see [5, 70]). With Scarabs shell

removed, excavation tools were mounted to the robots structural chassis.

For continuous excavation, a bucket-wheel was mounted with its axis of rotation aligned with

Scarabs driving direction. The bucket wheel is 80 cm diameter with 12 buckets, and each bucket

80

Figure 5.2: Gravity offload testing with bucket-wheel (left) and front-loader bucket (right) on the

Scarab robot. A cable pulls up on the robot, tensioned by weights acting through a 2:1 lever arm.

The weights and lever assembly hang from a hoist that is pulled along a passive rail by a separate

winch-driven cable.

has a width of 15 cm The bucket used for discrete excavation is 66 cm wide, and was mounted

behind Scarabs front wheels at a cutting angle, , of 15 degrees from horizontal (see Fig. 3.3 for

a definition of ).

This research developed an experimental apparatus for achieving gravity offload in the SLOPE

lab. The main aspects of the apparatus are shown in Figure 5.2. A cable pulls up on the robot,

tensioned by weights acting through a 2:1 lever arm. The weights and lever assembly hang from

a hoist that is pulled along a passive rail by a separate winch-driven cable. All tests are conducted

in a straight line below the hoist rail. The winch speed is controlled so that the hoist is pulled

along at the same speed as the robot is driving, keeping the cable vertical. For tests where excavator speed remains constant, winch speed is set open loop. For tests where the excavator enters

into high slip, winch speed has to be manually reduced to match the robots decreasing speed.

Scarab has a mass of 312 kg (weight of 3060 N in Earth gravity) in the configuration used for

these experiments. The connection point for the gravity offload cable was adjusted to preserve the

robots weight distribution (54% on the rear wheels). This was confirmed by weighing Scarab on

4 scales (one under each wheel) before and after being connected to the gravity offload apparatus.

81

The offloading cable was equipped with a 2-axis inclinometer and a single-axis load cell to

measure cable angle and tension, respectively.

Between each test run, soil conditions were reset using a technique developed at NASA

GRC. First, the GRC-1 simulant is fully loosened by plunging a shovel approximately 30 cm

deep and then levering the shovel to fluff the regolith to the surface; this is repeated every 1520 cm in overlapping rows. Next, the regolith is leveled with a sand rake (first with tines, then

the flat back edge). The regolith is then compacted by dropping a 10 kg tamper from a height of

approximately 15 cm; each spot of soil is tamped 3 times. Finally, the regolith is lightly leveled

again for a smooth flat finish. A cone penetrometer was used to verify that the soil preparation

consistently achieved bulk density between 1700 kg/m3 and 1740 kg/m3 .

Continuous and discrete excavation experiments were conducted at equivalent nominal production rates of approximatly 0.5 kg/s, and at equal speeds of 2.7 cm/s. To account for the

differing geometry of the excavation tools, the rectangular discrete bucket cut at a depth of 2 cm,

and the bucket-wheel cut at a depth of 5 cm. Depth was set using Scarabs active suspension,

which raises and lowers the central chassis. Regolith picked up by the bucket-wheel was collected into 5-gallon buckets, as shown in Figure 5.3, and weighed. The discrete bucket collected

regolith directly, and after a test that regolith was transfered into 5-gallon buckets and weighed.

The lightweight threshold is characterized by a degradation of mobility. To capture mobility

information, the excavators position was tracked at a data rate of 1 Hz using a laser total station.

Estimates of lightweight numbers, L, for the various test conditions predict that Scarab will

not enter the lightweight regime for either mode of excavation at 1 g, but that it will cross the

lightweight threshold when performing discrete excavation under gravity offload.

A maximum payload ratio of P = 0.5 is assumed for the excavation configurations of interest. In this case, Equation 5.5 is applicable for discrete excavation, and Equation 5.4 applies

82

to continuous excavation (independent of the choice of P ). Excavation thrust, T is the same for

both modes of excavation, as the excavator uses the same spring tires for all the experiments.

For these tires, T 0.25, as seen in Figure 4.2. The value of Fdisc

, between 0.2 and 0.3, is

estimated from experiments with a similar discrete bucket [2]. Force measurements from preliminary tests with the bucket-wheel suggest a F0,cont between 0.002 and 0.004. These values

lead to estimates of L between 60 and 130 for continuous excavation, and between 2 and 4 for

discrete excavation, in 1 g.

Gravity offload reduces drawbar pull proportionally to the reduction in weight, without changing excavation resistance. This effectively reduces L in step with the weight reduction, leading

to L values between 10 and 20 for continuous excavation, and between 0.3 and 0.7 for discrete

excavation when operating with the excavator weight offloaded to 1/6. An L below 1 for the discrete excavation case represents crossing the lightweight threshold and thus an inability to safely

collect a payload ratio of 0.5. Table 5.1 summarizes these predictions.

83

Continuous excavation

Discrete excavation

1g

60-130

2-4

Offloaded to 1/6 g

10-20

0.3-0.7

Table 5.1: Predicted values for L for the relevant experimental conditions. The excavator is

predicted to cross the lightweight threshold (L < 1) when performing discrete excavation under

gravity offload.

Excavation type

Driving only

Continuous

Discrete

Driving only

Continuous

Discrete

Gravity

1g

1g

1g

1/6g

1/6g

1/6g

Average v

2.6 cm/s

2.6 cm/s

2.6 cm/s

2.7 cm/s

2.7 cm/s

no S/S

v

0.2 cm/s

0.3 cm/s

0.4 cm/s

0.3 cm/s

0.3 cm/s

n/a

Table 5.2: Discrete excavation offloaded to 1/6 g is the only test condition that does not maintain

constant steady state (S/S) velocity throughout. Note that v represents the mean of the 3 tests

values, not the of the 3 tests mean velocities (which showed negligible variation between

tests of any single set)

Experiments show that in 1 g neither continuous nor discrete excavation crosses the lightweight

threshold. On the other hand, in gravity offloaded 1/6 g, discrete excavation crosses the lightweight

threshold, while continuous excavation still does not.

Three or four runs were conducted at each of the test conditions, including baseline runs of

driving without digging. Total station data were analyzed to calculate excavator speed during

each test, as shown in Figure 5.4. The excavator maintains constant forward progress in all cases

except discrete excavation with gravity offload. Average speed (as well as standard deviation)

for the various test cases, is summarized in Table 5.2.

Tests in 1 g exhibit a slightly slower speed, because the higher weight compresses the compliant spring tires and reduces their radius. Excavation and gravity offload both introduce a

small amount of additional variability in speed compared to driving without digging in 1 g.

Continuous and discrete excavation in 1 g, as well as continuous excavation in gravity of84

0.04

0.035

0.035

0.03

0.03

Speed (m/s)

Speed (m/s)

0.04

0.025

0.02

0.015

0.02

0.015

0.01

0.01

0.005

0.005

0

0

20

40

Time (s)

60

0

0

80

40

Time (s)

60

80

20

40

Time(s)

60

80

0.035

0.035

0.03

Speed(m/s)

0.03

0.025

0.02

0.015

0.025

0.02

0.015

0.01

0.01

0.005

0.005

0

0

20

0.04

0.04

Speed (m/s)

0.025

20

40

Time (s)

60

80

Figure 5.4: Excavator forward driving speed during continuous excavation in 1 g (top left),

discrete excavation in 1 g (top right), continuous excavation in gravity offloaded 1/6 g (bottom

left), and discrete excavation in gravity offloaded 1/6 g (bottom right; time axes aligned at stall

point). The excavator maintains constant forward progress in all cases except discrete excavation

with gravity offload.

85

Figure 5.5: Discrete bucket at end of excavation tests without gravity offload (left; full with

approx. 45 kg of GRC-1) and with gravity offload (right; only 15-20 kg of GRC-1 collected)

floaded 1/6 g, all collected approximately 45 kg during each 2.5 m test run. Discrete excavation

in gravity offloaded 1/6 g collected only 15-20 kg, in contrast. Figure 5.5 shows the state of fill

of the discrete bucket after 1 g and 1/6 g experiments.

Gravity offload was controlled with sufficient precision to avoid pulling the excavator forward or backward. Figure 5.6 shows longitudinal cable angle and cable tension for a continuous

excavation test. Cable angle was unbiased about vertical, with a mean value of just 0.1 degrees.

Transient motions of the cable did not exceed 0.8 degrees from vertical for more than a fraction

of a second; with a cable tension of 2600 N, this corresponds to brief transients of 35 N, or 7%

of offloaded excavator weight. Cable tension varies just 1% which, amplified by the offloading

ratio, corresponds to 5% variation in the offloaded excavator weight. Figure 5.7 shows longitudinal cable angle and cable tension for a discrete excavation test. Variability in angle and tension

were again small.

5.3

All excavators have a lightweight threshold in the operating space, below which their productivity is limited. This threshold is crossed at lower weights for continuous excavators than

discrete excavators. The lightweight threshold is described by a non-dimensional quantity, the

86

1.5

2700

2680

Cable tension (N)

1

0.5

0

0.5

2640

2620

1

1.5

0

2660

20

40

60

Time (s)

80

2600

0

100

20

40

60

Time (s)

80

100

1.5

2580

2560

Cable tension (N)

Figure 5.6: Longitudinal angle (left) and tension (right) of the gravity offloading cable during a

continuous excavation experiment, showing minimal variation.

0.5

0

0.5

1

1.5

0

2540

2520

2500

2480

2460

20

40

60

Time (s)

80

2440

0

100

20

40

60

Time (s)

80

100

Figure 5.7: Longitudinal angle (left) and tension (right) of the gravity offloading cable during a

discrete excavation experiment, showing minimal variation.

87

lightweight number L, that relates payload ratio, excavation resistance, and excavation thrust.

For continuous excavation, L depends on the initial excavation resistance coefficient, F0,cont .

For discrete excavation it depends on the rate of increasing resistance with respect to increasing

payload, Fdisc

. The lower lightweight threshold for continuous excavators hinges on Fdisc

being

is orders of magnitude larger than

F0,cont . Although this does not prove the result generally, it strongly suggests that it likely holds

in all but the most degenerate of cases.

An excavators lightweight threshold can be estimated using laboratory experiments. Drawbar pull tests with a full-scale wheel and soil bin excavation tests with a full-scale tool predict

T and F , respectively, for terrestrial gravity. The dependence of L on reduced gravity is not

fully characterized, but assuming direct scaling of L with g provides a balanced estimate. Future

research involving reduced gravity flights to directly investigate the effects of g on drawbar pull

coefficient and excavation resistance would provide more refined estimates for L(g).

Testing in Earth gravity is an inadequate evaluation of planetary excavators, as it underestimates detrimental effects of reduced gravity on both traction and excavation resistance. Gravity

offloaded testing effectively makes the assumption of direct scaling of L with g in an experimental context. This research developed a novel experimental apparatus for achieving gravity

offload, and was the first to subject excavators to offload while they dig.

88

This research developed a novel robotic bucket-wheel excavator prototype, based upon the principles identified in prior chapters of this thesis. It is distinguished by high payload ratio and

high driving speed, features shown to govern lightweight excavator productivity in Chapter 3.

It is a continuous excavator, the preferable tooling configuration according to the theory and

experiments presented in Chapter 5. Its wheels were developed for high drawbar pull, another

important characteristic discussed in Chapters 4 and 5. The excavator prototype is shown in

Figure 6.1.

Lightweight excavator productivity is governed by productivity during the haul stage of the

load-haul-dump cycle, as discussed in Section 3.4. This depends directly on payload ratio and

driving speed, treated here, but also on operational efficiency (percentage of time spent actually performing work, as opposed to waiting for commands or performing computations). High

operational efficiency relies upon high performance autonomy or teleoperation algorithms, recommended as a direction for related future work. Combining high payload ratio and high speed

driving is an important improvment upon the state of the art. Past lightweight excavator prototypes were too slow or carried too little regolith payload, as summarized in Table 6.1.

6.1

Bucket-wheel excavators have been shown to produce low resistance forces suitable for lightweight

operation [36]. Bucket-wheels, and any other continuous excavators such as bucket-ladders, also

89

Robot

Mass

Payload

Ratio

Driving

Speed

Bucket wheel

excavator

< 100 kg

n/a

[52]

Bucket drum

excavator

< 100 kg

Mod.

< 5 cm/s

[17]

Bucket ladder

excavators

< 100 kg

High

Various

[NASA]

NASA Cratos

scraper

< 100 kg

High

5 cm/s

[16]

Juno

loadhaul-dump

> 300 kg

Low

> 1 m/s

[67]

NASA Chariot

w/

LANCE

blade

> 1000 kg

Low

> 1 m/s

[39]

NASA Centaur II w/

bucket

> 500 kg

Low

> 1 m/s

[NASA]

Image

90

Ref.

Figure 6.1: Lightweight robotic excavator prototype featuring central bucket-wheel, high payload dump-bed, high traction wheels, and high-speed wheel actuation

do not suffer from increasing resistance from soil accumulation described in the previous chapters. Prototype bucket-wheel excavators have had difficulty transferring regolith from bucketwheel to collection bin in the past, and as a result bucket-ladders have gained favor [37].

Bucket-ladders use chains to move buckets along easily shapeable paths, making transfer to a

collection bin easy. Winners of the NASA Regolith Excavation Challenge and subsequent Lunabotics mining competitions (which require digging in lunar regolith simulant for 30 minutes)

all employed bucket-ladders driven by exposed chains [49]. However, bucket-ladder chains are

exposed directly to the soil surface and these would degrade very quickly in harsh lunar regolith

and vacuum. Exposed bucket-ladder chains are thus not relevant to operation in lunar conditions.

A novel excavator configuration, with bucket-wheel mounted centrally and transverse to driving direction, achieves direct regolith transfer into a dump-bed. The bucket-wheel is a single

moving part, with no need for chains or conveyors. This reduces complexity and risk from regolith and dust. Once regolith has been carried to the top of the wheel in an individual bucket, it

91

Figure 6.2: Robotic excavator configuration with transverse bucket-wheel and large dump-bed

(left). Close-up of unique direct regolith transfer into dump-bed enabled by transverse orientation

(right)

drops down out the back of the bucket and into a dump-bed. This configuration offers a simple

solution to the transfer problem for bucket-wheels identified in past literature. The dump-bed

transfer concept is shown in Figure 6.2, and implemented in practice in Figure 6.3.

The large dump-bed achieves a high payload ratio, enabling productive execution of excavation tasks.

The novel bucket-wheel excavator configuration simplifies regolith transfer into a dump-bed, but

it is important to establish if that does not come at a cost, such as higher excavation resistance. A

transverse bucket-wheel configuration must not lose the low resistance that makes bucket-wheels

desirable in the first place.

Excavation forces and production rates of bucket-wheels digging in lunar simulant are measured experimentally. Experiments compare resistance forces encountered by bucket wheels

92

Figure 6.3: Sand in dump-bed, having been transfered directly by gravity from bucket-wheel

advancing through GRC-1 lunar simulant in a transverse configuration (axis of rotation along

direction of travel) and in a forward configuration (axis of rotation lateral to direction of travel).

An experimental apparatus pushes a bucket-wheel along a direction of travel while rotating

it; the bucket-wheel orientation can be set either transverse or forward. A load cell measures the

horizontal force opposing travel.

Excavation resistance for a transverse bucket-wheel is shown to depend on rotation speed (as

a ratio to forward advance rate). Once a sufficiently high rotation speed is achieved, there is little

difference in excavation resistance between transverse and forward bucket-wheel configurations.

To further reduce excavation resistance for the excavator prototypes transverse bucket-wheel,

cutting faces are angled outward (see Figure 6.6). This prevents bulldozing by the cutting face.

During gravity offloaded bucket-wheel excavation tests, excavation resistance forces were

low enough that mobility was unaffected. Force data were collected using a 6-axis force/torque

sensor mounted between the bucket-wheel actuator and the robot chassis. Lateral and longitudinal forces acting on the bucket-wheel were on the order of 10-20 N, and 5-10 N, respectively (as

shown in Figure 6.7). Lateral forces of this magnitude are less than 5% of the vehicles offloaded

weight, and did not induce discernable slew or yaw in the robots trajectory.

93

Figure 6.5: Transverse bucket-wheels do not exhibit significantly higher excavation resistance

once bucket rotation speed is sufficient

94

30

30

25

25

Longitudinal force (N)

Figure 6.6: Side view of bucket-wheel, noting the cutting face angle. The angle is 14 degrees on

both faces of the transverse bucket-wheel to enable excavation during both forward and backward

driving.

20

15

10

5

0

0

20

15

10

5

0

20

40

60

Time (s)

80

100

120

20

40

60

Time (s)

80

100

120

Figure 6.7: Lateral (lower left) and longitudinal (lower right) excavation resistance forces are

low enough that excavator mobility is unaffected, even with gravity offload. Lateral forces, due

to the transverse bucket-wheel orientation, do not cause the excavator to slew or yaw. Lateral

(blue) and longitudinal (red) directions relative to bucket-wheel are indicated in the upper image.

95

6.2

High driving speed, while shuttling between dig and dump sites, governs lightweight excavator

productivity, as shown in Chapter 3. The maximum driving speed of the excavator developed in

this work is 0.41 m/s, as measured during field testing. For comparison, the Lunakhod rovers

(the fastest planetary mobile robots deployed to date) typically operated at 0.26 m/s. They had a

top speed approaching 0.56 m/s, although this speed was used quite infrequently [38].

The excavators wheels are made of lightweight composite materials, and are rigid. To

achieve high drawbar pull with rigid wheels, grousers are employed. Grouser spacing and height

are selected to mitigate resistive forward soil flow, in compliance with the grouser spacing equation derived in Appendix B. Nominal operating conditions of 20% slip and 10% sinkage (measured as a percentage of wheel radius) are assumed. The selection of a 60 cm diameter wheel

with 36 grousers fixes the appropriate grouser height at 2 cm. The excavators wheels can be

seen prominently in Figure 6.10.

Soil flow imaging tests confirm that the selected grouser geometry appropriately mitigates

resistive forward flow. Figure 6.8 shows experimental data of soil flowing beneath the wheel.

Forward flow induced by a wheel with insufficient grousers is shown in Figure 6.9 for comparison.

6.3

to discrete wide bucket excavators, such as scrapers and front-loaders, for lightweight lunar

and planetary excavation. Bucket-wheel excavators produce low resistance forces that enable

lightweight operation, but in the past have had difficulty transferring regolith from bucket-wheel

to collection bin or dump-bed (necessitating impractical conveyor systems). As a result, bucket96

Figure 6.8: Grouser spacing tests for excavator wheel. Processed imagery of soil motion induced

by driving at 20% slip, shown by pairs of processed images at 6 instances. The top image of each

pair shows soil velocity magnitude (colors range from blue for stationary soil to red for maximum

observed speed); the bottom image shows soil velocity direction (colors correspond to directions

indicated by the color wheel in the bottom right). Red dots are added to aid in following the

progress of three individual grousers (each dot indicates the base of a grouser). Periodic effects

of grouser interactions are observed, with little to no resistive forward flow (which would appear

as large yellow areas in direction plots) seen. Compare to Figure 6.9

Figure 6.9: Processed imagery of soil motion with a wheel with insufficient grousers. The (lower)

direction plot shows a large region of resistive forward flow, indicated by yellow and orange.

97

Figure 6.10: Excavator wheels with proper grouser spacing ensure high traction performance

ladders have gained favor, but their exposed chains would fare poorly in harsh lunar regolith and

vacuum.

A centrally mounted and transverse bucket-wheel configuration, developed in this work,

achieves simplified transfer of regolith into a dump-bed with no significant increase in excavation resistance. The dump-bed is designed to collect substantial payload ratio. The excavator

also has a high driving speed, as payload ratio and driving speed govern lightweight excavator productivity. The design and testing of the excavators rigid wheels demonstrate successful

application of a grouser spacing equation derived as part of this work.

98

7.1

Conclusions

This thesis shows that there is a quantifiable, non-dimensional threshold that distinguishes lightweight

from heavy excavation. This threshold is crossed at lower weights for continuous excavators than

discrete excavators. The lightweight threshold relates payload ratio (weight of regolith payload

collected to empty robot weight), excavation resistance (force imparted on an excavator by cutting and collecting soil), and excavation thrust (force supplied by an excavator that is available

for cutting soil).

Payload ratio, driving speed, and operational efficiency govern productivity of excavation

tasks by small robots. This has been shown using simulation and sensitivity analysis. Experiments using Lysander validate these sensitivity analysis results quantitatively, by varying driving

speed, payload ratio, and number of wheels and measuring output productivity. The task had

a relatively short travel distance (3 m) between dig and dump. Longer distances would be expected to only further increase the importance of payload ratio and driving speed, as an even

higher percentage of the task would be devoted to hauling regolith, as opposed to digging or

dumping.

Experiments lend credence to simulated results and highlight the reality of some potentially

counter-intuitive findings. It may not be surprising that payload ratio and driving speed should

govern productivity, as making each load-haul-dump cycle faster and carrying more load each

99

time directly speed up the task. The relatively negligible effect of changing the number of wheels

is not necessarily obvious though; one might have thought that added traction could significantly

speed up the digging process and thus overall task productivity. Both experiment and simulation

suggest that optimizing a traction system is not the best place to expend resources that should

rather be used maximizing speed and payload ratio.

The prominence of the three hauling productivity parameters shows that hauling is the important part of load-haul-dump excavation tasks, in terms of productivity. An important underlying

assumption in this result is that the excavators in question can achieve a basic level of excavation

capability. If an excavator gets stuck while digging, or must regularly correct and adjust its cuts,

the time spent digging would grow relative to time spent hauling.

Continuous excavation resistance remains constant as payload accumulates, while discrete excavation resistance increases without bound

The excavation thrust coefficient, F , is bounded in continuous excavation, and increases

approximately linearly with payload accumulation in discrete excavation. F and dF /dP for

cutting cohesive soil are predicted to increase for reduced gravity and for reduced mass & scale.

Boles experiments support this prediction for F in reduced gravity [13]. In cohesionless soil, F

and dF /dP are predicted to remain constant; this is supported by experimentation herein.

The ratio P20 /W is an appropriate metric to use for excavation thrust coefficient, T, when

assuming thrust is generated through traction. When slip goes above 20%, the mobility of most

wheels can degrade rapidly; maintaining drawbar pull low enough to keep slip below 20% satisfies the assumption that an excavator maintains nominal capability during digging. T = P20 /W

is approximately constant with changing load, for a given wheel with scale and gravity kept constant. On the other hand, T is predicted to decrease for reduced gravity and for reduced mass &

scale. Kobayashis experiments support this prediction for reduced gravity [43].

Excavation is thus more difficult on planetary surfaces, especially on the Moon, than it is

on Earth. Lightweight operation with small robots and/or in reduced gravity disproportionately

100

reduces excavation thrust while also increasing excavation resistance disproportionately in cohesive lunar regolith. For these reasons, excavation in Earth gravity (even with a robot of relevant

scale in a regolith simulant) overpredicts the performance of excavators in reduced gravity.

discrete excavators

All excavators have a lightweight threshold in the operating space, below which their productivity is limited. This threshold is crossed at lower weights for continuous excavators than

discrete excavators. The lightweight threshold is described by a non-dimensional quantity, the

lightweight number L, that relates payload ratio, excavation resistance, and excavation thrust.

For continuous excavation, L depends on the initial excavation resistance coefficient, F0,cont .

For discrete excavation it depends on the rate of increasing resistance with respect to increasing

payload, Fdisc

. The lower lightweight threshold for continuous excavators hinges on Fdisc

being

is orders of magnitude larger than

F0,cont . Although this does not prove the result generally, it strongly suggests that it likely holds

in all but the most degenerate of cases.

An excavators lightweight threshold can be estimated using laboratory experiments. Drawbar pull tests with a full-scale wheel and soil bin excavation tests with a full-scale tool predict

T and F , respectively, for terrestrial gravity. The dependence of L on reduced gravity is not

fully characterized, but assuming direct scaling of L with g provides a balanced estimate. Future

research involving reduced gravity flights to directly investigate the effects of g on drawbar pull

coefficient and excavation resistance would provide more refined estimates for L(g).

Testing in Earth gravity is an inadequate evaluation of planetary excavators, as it underestimates detrimental effects of reduced gravity on both traction and excavation resistance. Gravity

offloaded testing effectively makes the assumption of direct scaling of L with g in an experimen101

tal context. This research develops a novel experimental apparatus for achieving gravity offload,

and was the first to subject excavators to offload while they dig. A 300 kg excavator offloaded to

1/6 g successfully collects 0.5 kg/s using a bucket-wheel, with no discernable effect on mobility.

For a discrete excavator of the same weight, production rapidly declines as rising excavation

resistance stalls the robot; in total the discrete bucket collects less than 20 kg of regolith.

Prior study of lightweight excavation had not identified the core principles

There is no consensus on appropriate excavation force modeling for lunar excavation. However, it is instructive to rise above the fray of contrasting models and focus on their commonly

shared features. Any estimate of excavation resistance must take into account soil weight (and

thus friction) and cohesion. Surcharge is also very important, particularly for discrete excavation; the weight, and perhaps cohesion, of the accumulating soil comprise this surcharge. These

common features provide a theoretical framework for broadly predicting dependence on key

variables such as soil density and cohesion as well as gravity and cut depth.

Past experiments have studied the effects of many excavation parameters, and have shown

that bucket-wheel excavators produce low resistance forces suitable for lightweight operation.

Only preliminary efforts had been made to study excavation forces in reduced gravity. Experiments with excavator prototypes simulating low gravity constitute a novel contribution to the

field of study.

The wide variability in configurations resulting from lunar excavation trade studies and prototype developments highlight the lack of consensus on appropriate configurations for lightweight

excavators. The result that most closely resembles consensus is the fact that bucket-ladder

trenchers have won the Regolith Excavation Challenge and Lunabotics mining competitions each

of the 4 times such competitions were held.

excavation

102

Continuous excavator configurations, such as bucket-wheels and bucket-ladders, are preferable to discrete wide bucket excavators, such as scrapers and front-loaders, for lightweight lunar

and planetary excavation. Bucket-wheel excavators produce low resistance forces that enable

lightweight operation, but in the past have had difficulty transferring regolith from bucket-wheel

to collection bin or dump-bed (necessitating impractical conveyor systems). As a result, bucketladders have gained favor, but their exposed chains would fare poorly in harsh lunar regolith and

vacuum.

A centrally mounted and transverse bucket-wheel configuration, developed in this work,

achieves simplified transfer of regolith into a dump-bed with no significant increase in excavation resistance. The dump-bed is designed to collect substantial payload ratio. The excavator

also has a high driving speed, as payload ratio and driving speed govern lightweight excavator productivity. The design and testing of the excavators rigid wheels demonstrate successful

application of a grouser spacing equation derived as part of this work.

7.2

Contributions

The major contribution of this thesis is the reduction of risk related to future planetary excavation

missions. It also establishes directions and resources to continue refining the results.

Identifying the core principles of lightweight excavation increases the probability of successful

excavation operations. At the same time, distinguishing features that enable lower mass excavators reduces mission cost. Taken together, these factors increase the feasibility of near-term

planetary excavation missions. Successful small scale missions could then be scaled up, following the approach used for the Mars rovers.

The key developments that lead to this contribution are a quantifiable lightweight thresh103

old and a methodology for estimating it for planetary conditions. An excavators lightweight

number, L, relates to its operational risk. Determining that a proposed excavators predicted L

(in planetary conditions) is near or below 1, for example, could prevent haphazardly sending a

discrete excavator into dangerous operating conditions. On the other hand, a very high L means

that a lower mass machines could just as well meet excavation requirements.

The insight that continuous excavation has inherently higher L, and thus is more applicable to lightweight excavation, reveals excavator designs that increase mission confidence while

lowering cost. This brings in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) missions forward, by enabling the

production of consumables from native regolith and the building of earthwork infrastructure, at

lower risk and cost.

This work developed a novel bucket-wheel excavator. This robotic platform is a resource that

enables further research into planetary excavation tasks. For example, it can be used to study operational issues of deep digging. For safe excavation to depth, the sides of a pit must be terraced

or gently sloping; this prevents collapse and cave in of the pit walls. The bucket-wheel excavator

enables testing of operation plans for excavating such a pit. Another example application is using

the robots sensing and actuation to test control strategies for dealing with buried rocks.

This research also developed a load-haul-dump model, Regolith Excavation, MObility &

Tooling Environment (REMOTE). The model could be a useful tool for mission planners and

excavator designers alike.

7.3

Future work

Future research on lightweight excavation would benefit from testing in reduced gravity flights.

These provide the most representative test environment short of actually operating on a planetary

104

Figure 7.1: Rocks produce large spikes in excavation resistance, posing a challenge for

lightweight continuous and discrete excavators alike.

surface, as excavator and regolith are both subject to reduced gravity. The dependence of the

lightweight number, L, on reduced gravity is not yet fully characterized. Reduced gravity flights

to directly investigate the effects of g on drawbar pull coefficient and excavation resistance would

provide more refined estimates for L(g).

Another important direction for future study is deep excavation in the presence of submerged

rocks, which pose challenges for lighweight continuous and discrete excavators alike. Initial tests

show that rocks produce large spikes in excavation resistance, as shown in Figure 7.1. Rocks are

especially important to consider during deep excavation. For safe excavation to depth, the sides

of a pit must be terraced or gently sloping; this prevents collapse and cave in of the pit walls.

Shallow slopes translate into large excavated volumes, though, and thus higher probability of

encountering rocks of any given size.

Continuous excavators have a lower lightweight threshold than discrete excavators; this re

sult hinges on Fdisc

being at least 3 times larger than F0,cont . Two distinct experiments herein

is orders of magnitude larger than F0,cont . This strongly suggests that continuous

excavators will have a lower lightweight threshold in all but the most degenerate of cases, though

105

Figure 7.2: Bucket soil flow imaged and processed. The top image shows soil velocity magnitude

(colors range from blue for stationary soil to red for maximum observed speed); the bottom image

shows soil velocity direction (colors correspond to directions indicated by the color wheel in the

bottom right)

it does not directly prove the result generally. Experiments to confirm the generality of these

results could explore a wide assortment of continuous and discrete excavation tools.

Additional experiments to study the effects of scaling on traction and excavation resistance

would provide further insight into the dependence of excavation on changes in weight. Such

experiments include (continuous) bucket-wheel and (discrete) flat-plate tests in cohesive soil, as

well as rigid and compliant wheel scaling in relevant soils.

Excavation modeling is fruitful ground for future research. Some aspects of excavation tasks

are ignored within REMOTE, including wheel slip sinkage and soil accumulation at the bucket

cutting edge. Soil accumulation and slip sinkage are appropriate directions for future modeling

development. Excavation resistance varies significantly during a cut as soil accumulates in the

bucket, and classical models only approximate this effect. They fail to capture excavation soil

flows. Novel soil flow imaging techniques developed as part of this work (see Appendix B) shed

light on soil flow during excavation, as shown in Figures 7.2 and 7.3. Discrete Element Modeling

(DEM) shows promise in modeling such excavation soil flows.

106

107

108

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118

A Extensions

This appendix discusses closely related topics that lie outside the scope of this thesis.

A.1

Regolith shaping

This thesis focuses on the load-haul-dump cycle that is central to all relevant planetary excavation

tasks. However, as described in Section 1.2, there is a class of tasks that also requires the regolith

to be shaped, molded, and perhaps compacted after being dumped. This class of tasks includes

building berms and covering habitats.

Bucket-wheels are not conducive to regolith shaping the way that wide flat (discrete) buckets

are. Discrete buckets, such as front-end loaders, can be used to flatten, smooth, and compress

regolith. This versatility is an important feature to trade off against continuous excavators productivity and mobility advantages. Another advantage of discrete buckets is the lower chance of

clogging, due to their inherently open geometry. For these reasons, it may sometimes be desirable to use a discrete excavator even in conditions where it technically falls below the lightweight

threshold.

If a discrete excavator is operating below the lightweight threshold, it will not be able to

safely collect its desired payload ratio in a single cut. However, for operations with a lightweight

number, L, just below 1, the desired payload ratio can be achieved with 2 cuts as long as regolith

from the first cut is cleared from the cutting edge of the bucket. In practice this clearing can

be performed by overshot dumping into a secondary dump-bed, or perhaps by tilting the bucket

119

back until soil shifts to the back of the bucket (as was done in the Lysander experiments described

in Section 3.2). An even smaller L may require 3 cuts, and so on. At some point the operation

begins to resemble continuous excavation, except for the fact that cutting and clearing are performed serially by a single bucket rather than in parallel by several; which is less productive and

less efficient. There will be a point in the trade space where L is so low as to make multi-cut

discrete excavation impractical.

The additional sensing and control complexity must also be taken into account when considering multi-cut operations with a discrete excavator. To ensure slip does not exceed some

safety threshold (of 20%, for example), slip or drawbar load needs to be estimated. Setting an

appropriate cut depth (for a subsequent cut) is also not trivial in soil disturbed by the pushing and

breakout of the previous cut.

A.2

This thesis assumes that excavation thrust is provided by traction, as excavator configurations

typically considered for space application cut by driving forward. However, configurations exist

that do no rely on traction for cutting. RASSOR (Figure 2.3) has counter-rotating bucket-drums

that can theoretically achieve zero net horizontal excavation resistance. Clamshell excavators are

another example of machines that can achieve zero net horizontal excavation resistance. In these

cases, vertical excavation resistance dominates.

The concepts presented in this thesis can be extended to these non-tractive excavation modes,

with a few minor adjustments. Vertical forces replace longitudinal forces when considering

excavation resistance coefficient, F . Excavation thrust is provided directly by the robot weight,

so T = 1. For discrete vertical excavation (e.g. clamshell), depth increases with cut progress.

Equation 2.1 suggests that excavation resistance increases with the square of depth. Compared

to the linear increase in resistance with cut length observed for horizontal cutting, the advantages

of continuous excavation may thus be even more pronounced in this mode of operation. Further

120

study of this hypothesis is recommended if considering vertical thrust for lightweight excavation.

121

122

A novel analysis technique has been developed to enable detailed investigation of robot interactions with granular regolith. This technique provides visualization and analysis capability of soil

shearing and flow as it is influenced by a wheel or excavation tool. During controlled motion a

test implement up against a glass sidewall, images are taken of the sub-surface soil, and are processed with optical flow software. Analysis of the resulting displacement field identifies clusters

of soil motion and shear interfaces. This enables analysis of robot-soil interactions in richer detail than possible before. Prior art relied on long-exposure images that provided only qualitative

insight, while the new processing technique identifies sub-millimeter gradations in motion and

can do so even for high frequency changes in motion (several Hz).

Direct observation of soil motion through glass sidewalls has been utilized in soil mechanics

and terramechanics research for over half a century [6]. Wong concluded experimentally that

as long as shear stress between glass and soil is negligible, the glass surface acts as a plane of

symmetry and the soil behaves as it would directly below an implement twice as wide [77, 78].

One archetypical photographic method for observing soil motion uses long-exposure photos

and distinguishes sharp and streaking soil grains as stationary and moving, respectively. Streaks

in the photos also provide information about the directions of soil motion. With advances in

digital camera technology and computer vision processing techniques, new methods providing

much richer data have become possible [25, 72]. The image processing technique discussed

in this work is similar in its implementation to Murthys, who performed a preliminary study

of sand displacement under a footing-like indenter [54]. This work applies these newest soil

123

observation techniques to wheel and tool interactions pertinent for planetary robots.

A description of experimental apparatus hardware is found in [47]. A digital SLR camera

with a 50mm macro lens is used to image the soil where it interfaces with the test implement,

logging frames simultaneously with the rest of the telemetry. A frame rate of 8 frames-persecond is used and is sufficiently fast for the slow implement speeds. The camera is mounted

perpendicular to the soil bin glass wall and travels with the implement in the horizontal direction

as the carriage moves. External halogen flood lights at a high angle (from the normal) to the

glass illuminate the soil particles.

Image processing comprises of optical flow and clustering techniques. An overview of the

process described herein is presented in Figure B.1. The optical flow algorithm [10] tracks displacement of soil regions relative to a prior frame and calculates a motion vector at each pixel.

Initial clustering separates each image into soil and not soil regions. Additional processing

and output is continued only for soil regions. The magnitude of flow at each pixel of the soil

regions is calculated from the optical flow vector fields. Soil flow is clustered into significant

and insignificant magnitudes of motion. No explicit threshold is used to demarcate these clusters, but rather automatically adaptive k-means clustering is used. The shear interface is derived

from the boundary between significant and insignificant motions. Soil flow direction is calculated from the optical flow vector fields, for soil regions exhibiting significant soil flow. Soil flow

in any direction (360 degrees) is visualized, and an additional boundary is identified at points

where the soil transitions between forward and rear flow. Figure B.2 is a sample output of the

process, showing soil flow magnitude, shear interface between significant and insignificant flow,

soil flow direction (within region of significant flow), and boundary between forward and rear

flow.

This soil imaging technique was used to derive a quantitative expression for determining

appropriate grouser spacing for rigid wheels. The intuition guiding the search for a grouser

spacing equation is an endeavor to ensure grousers encounter soil ahead of a wheel before the

124

wheel rim does. When a wheel rim encounters soil it bulldozes it forward and compacts it,

producing resistance, in addition to shearing it to produce thrust [48]. Grousers, on the other

hand, have a net rearward motion near the bottom of a rotating wheel, and thus pull soil back and

constrain it from undergoing resistive forward flow. The grouser spacing equation is discussed

in detail in [64], and the derivation is provided here for reference.

125

Figure B.2: Sample processed output for driven wheel. Soil flow speed (upper) is denoted from

blue (static) to red (max. speed). Soil flow direction (lower) within the shear interface is denoted

according to the color wheel is the bottom right.

126

127

128

129

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