As described in the section on the Telerobotic Outpost, the telerobotic settlement strategy begins with a beachhead outpost stage intended to establish an initial telecommunications infrastructure and facilities for recovering an influx of equipment and supplies delivered by economical ‘rough’ lander systems. In this section we will explore the details of some of the key equipment deployed in this stage.
Beachhead outposts would be established with the deployment of inter-orbital transport vehicles taking up permanent orbital positions as telecommunications, GPS, and remote sensing satellites and may be employed as carriers for the first surface systems. The first wave of such vehicles would deploy rough landing transponder units over large areas and serving as a guidance transponder grid to assist later landing vehicles. This would then be followed by the beachhead landers, deploying on-surface systems and robots for the rest of the beachhead mission.
The satellites employed for the beachhead mission would be unlike satellites deployed to date in that they would be full transorbital spacecraft telerobotically assembled on-orbit in the manner of MUOL – Modular Unmanned Orbital Laboratory stations using similar components and possibly built at pre-existing MUOL and MUOF – Modular Unmanned Orbital Factory facilities established as part of the Asgard program. Employing the BeamShip architecture common to Asgard phase spacecraft, they would be based on a single primary open space frame truss beam to which the rest of the components of the spacecraft and its payload are retrofit, in most cases attaching to the same quick-connect node components used to connect struts.
For Earth lunar application, they would likely employ conventional rocket propulsion using all-in-one thruster and fuel modules. For Mars, more sophisticated plasma propulsion may likely be employed. Orbital assembly of these vehicles allows for much larger, more complex, more physically dispersed, and less rugged space systems than typical for satellites that must be launched whole from the Earth’s surface and survive tremendous shock forces in the process. Telerobotic assembly on-orbit coupled to the use of modularity affording mass production may lead to great economy compared to terrestrial fabrication and no-failure-option rocket transport to orbit.
Typical configurations of these vehicles would place propulsion at one end, control and satellite systems package in the center, payload at the front end, and solar arrays flanking them all along the length of the beam. First generation systems are likely to be relatively simple but later vehicle may include many aspects of MUOL design including on-board telerobots to assist their long-term maintenance and possible structural evolution into Surface Transit Waystation facilities.
Transponders Landers would be compact self-contained surface communications systems deployed primarily as a tracking and navigational aid to assist, by signal beacon triangulation, the controlled descent of later lander vehicles and the navigation of early mobile robots. They would consist of simple surface probe packages similar to the self-righting Beagle 2 and NASA MER lander designs, relying on a similar air-bag landing system with parachute or rocket-chute assistance. Limited primarily to the role of a signaling transponder and using a minimalistic system design, they may be somewhat smaller than these previous probe vehicles and would be intended for much longer duty life, though they would ultimately be obsolesced by deployable transponder units later placed by mobile robots. The number or necessity for these transponder units may depend heavily on the effectiveness of pre-deployed satellites as the basis of a GPS system. However, initially the constellation of such satellites may be very small.
The primary mission vehicles, Beachhead Landers would be vertical soft landing vehicles of some scale similar to vehicles long used for scientific probes and for the deployment of rovers. Consisting primarily of a table-like payload pallet with under-slung engine systems, they would carry some of the most elaborate individual systems packages deployed in the telerobotic settlement program. Their chief jobs are to deploy an interplanetary communications uplink for a local WiFi network used to control mobile robots, deploy initial base power systems, and deploy a small fleet of multi-purpose rover robots used to clear a base and drop-zone site and recover subsequent payloads delivered by rough landers. However, they are likely to be packed with many additional scientific instruments as well and may even feature one or more MUOL-style long-reach InchWorm robot arms used to aid their systems deployment, later payload ‘de-parting’, and perform simple maintenance tasks on their attendant fleet of robots.
Depending on the scale of spacecraft and soft lander platforms used to transport them, Beachhead Landers will either combine or deploy individually three sets of systems; a high bandwidth communications system combining interplanetary up-link (capable of both direct communication and relay through the initial satellite constellation) and local large area WiFi, a power system in the form of solar and/or RTG systems, and a set of at least three multi-purpose rovers. In addition, a number of stationary WiFi peer network transponder units would also be included as cargo for deployment by robot around a selected drop-zone area. Teams of landers would be deployed in proximity sufficient to maintain a wireless data link between them all. Some lander platform designs may employ simple wheel bogies as part of their landing gear in order to allow them to traverse a modest distance to aid their grouping together, either under their own power or towed by robots.
Beachhead Landers would generally have a temporary role. Once they establish the means to a regular influx of supplies by rough lander, a Transitional Outpost based on robot-deployed stationary system modules would be established in a more logistically ideal spot within the lander team vicinity. The landers would then be abandoned, downgraded to transponder role, or disassembled with key components transported and redeployed as back-up systems at the new location.
Deployed by Beachhead Landers or, if sufficiently large enough, their own more specialized soft landing ‘rocket-chute’ system, these first mobile robot denizens of the telerobotic outpost would have a fairly large spectrum of roles packed into a single compact system, deriving from the same modular components platform used for most of the settlements’ robots but somewhat smaller than later robots. The basic form of these robots would be similar to the later dedicated payload recovery robots, consisting of a flat deck chassis supported by an ATV drive train and which a variety of other components can be plugged into. Initial equipment would include large capacity batteries or an RTG based power plant, possibly small solar panels intended for long-period recharges and control/communications systems back-up power, perimeter cameras and range sensors, one or two InchWorm type robot arms with cameras and tool pallets, a generous flat deck cargo space, a deployable dozer plow, GPS receiver, radio tracking sensors, and a peer network WiFi transponder. (allowing robots to reinforce their wireless network ‘reach’ with their collective presence)
Operating over an area of several kilometers, the Multi-Use Rovers would be first charged with the task of clearing debris immediately around a lander sites, surveying the topography in the area around the collective beachhead site, then clearing and staking out a large drop zone using deployable transponder units. Their use would then be split between performing regional exploration and payload recovery, collecting payloads from the drop zone and bringing them to the Beachhead Outpost landers for de-parting and assembly into new robots and systems. Eventually this first generation of rovers may be obsolesced along with the Beachhead Outposts, likely being refitted and converted into more specialized robots later on.
Designed in the form of simple self-contained packages intended to be placed by robots on the open surface, Transponder units would be the most basic of Stationary Systems that would makeup the Transitional Outposts. A number of Transponder models are likely to be employed by the telerobotic settlements, though those deployed by the Beachhead Outposts are likely to be the smallest and simplest, as primary communications would rely on the Beachhead Landers. Powered by either a long duration battery intended to last at least a decade or small photovoltaic arrays with a battery power storage system, the primary system of the Transponders would be a communications system combining a wide area WiFi node for a peer-network architecture and a digital signaling beacon and beacon tracker which are used as a navigation aid. Transponders would be placed in such proximity to each other that they maintain a continuous wireless repeater web able to relay high bandwidth WiFi communications across long distances while also being able to track, through triangulation, the presence and movement of robots and the landing location of rough-lander payloads. In addition to these key communications systems, the Transponder packages would include some simple instruments for monitoring the environment around them, a web cam with utility light, and a small low power flashing signal light.
Transponders may be the most numerous field devices deployed by telerobotic settlements and would likely be mass-produced in great quantity and constantly refined in design and fabrication. Key to establishing a passive communications web for all mobile and remote systems, the working area of the settlements as well as their key transportation routes would essentially be defined by the placement of these Transponders. Deploying and replacing them would be one of the most frequent and common tasks of the settlements. Like cave divers laying out a guide line, robotic exploration rovers would leave a regular trail of these transponders to mark their explored territory, though as orbital tracking satellite constellations are established a progressively lower density of this surface transponder web would be necessary and surface optical cable lines with integral WiFi nodes may eventually replace Transponders along the more regularly used transit routes.
With these tools the Beachhead Outposts would establish the key supply links and the foundation of the ultimate permanent settlements. Fewest in number, delivered with the least navigational aids and the highest landing site uncertainty, having the least local maintenance support, and operating under the most open environmental exposure for long durations, these would likely be the most rugged highest reliability systems deployed for the telerobotic outpost. The systems that, truly, must do the most with the least under the most challenging conditions.