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Granular Mechanics and Regolith Operations (GMRO)

The Granular Mechanics and Regolith Operations Laboratory studies the mechanics of materials and robotics for the purposes of developing groundbreaking, innovative technology for surface systems in space.  

It develops technologies for handling Lunar and Martian regolith, including excavator technologies, pneumatic transport of regolith, and magnetic handling of regolith. It studies the basic physics and geology of Lunar, Martian, and asteroid regolithin order to support regolith-handling technologies, including the particle sizing, particle shapes, bulk mechanical properties of the soil, soil compaction, field sampling technologies, and laboratory testing protocols.

It also studies technological concepts for a launch pad environment, especially the mechanics of soil at Lunar and Martian spaceports; how to excavate the soil to prepare berms, landing pads, and roads; how to model the blowing of soil or other materials in a rocket exhaust plume to predict the blast effects.




As part of Swamp Works, the Granular Mechanics and Regolith Operations Laboratory can provide concepts, designs, technology development, technology demonstration, testing, and knowledge in support of development of surface systems, from early concept validation to full prototyping.  The lab also performs support work for the agency goals for in-situ resource utilization (ISRU). 



The lab’s equipment includes the following assets:

  • Big Bin – The world’s largest test bin of Black Point-1 (BP-1) regolith simulant, used for environmental testing of surface system prototypes and hardware developed in the lab.
  • Additive Construction Station – An assortment of 3D printers and a factory-grade robotic arm, used for manufacturing of mechanical parts on demand and testing of various feedstocks.
  • Mars Pathfinder Lander Mockup – A mockup of a lander carrying ISRU surface systems, used for integration and hardware-in-the-loop (HWIL) testing of excavation and regolith-processing surface systems.
  • Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute (SSERVI) Workspace – An interactive audio-visual workspace where project groups collaborate across the country with commercial/academic partners and other NASA Centers. 



GMRO Lab Big Bin

Mars Pathfinder Lander Mockup (and RASSOR) in the Big Bin during integration demonstration


Current projects in work:

  • RASSOR (Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot) – Prototype excavation robotic system for extraterrestrial environments using patented counter-rotating bucket drum technology to excavate in the low-gravity environments of the Moon and Mars.


  • ACES (Additive Construction for Exploraton Systems) – Prototype additive construction system for the purpose of 3D-printing habitats out of regolith-derived material on the Moon and Mars.


  • Mars Pathfinder – Integrated test bed for excavation, robotic systems, and resource processing in Mars environment.


  • ALTIP (Asteroid and Lava Tube ISRU Prospector) Free Flyer – Prototype cold-gas-jet unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for resource prospecting in lava tubes on asteroids and Mars.


  • Asteroid simulant categorization – Comprehensive characterization of the properties of the first simulant for asteroid regolith.



RASSOR during mechanical testing



Regolith/polymer mix being tested for additive construction





ALTIP Free Flyer


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