Robotic Spacecraft Assembly in the Orbit
Robotics has seen a great push forward with the current development straight from NASA. Now, robots are in space with manipulator robots being employed for spacecraft assembly. Industrial robots have been designed to create a robotic arm for various tasks like welding, die-cast, pick and place, and more. All repetitive tasks are accomplished today with the help of manipulator robots in the industries.
The Space Infrastructure Robotic Arm
NASA has announced that they’re building and testing a new robotic arm with Maxar. This is called ‘SPIDER’ or space infrastructure dexterous robot. This program will be a part of NASA’s Restore-L mission that is aimed at demonstrating in-orbit spacecraft assembly and repair. Adding new components, replacing damaged parts of a satellite is crucial in maintaining the performance of a satellite.
- SPIDER is a dexterous robot which means that it has a gripper that has a high degree of freedom or DOF.
- The term ‘Dexterity’ is used specifically in robotics to describe the performance of grippers.
- Dexterous manipulation of a robotic arm is the ability to perform an action effectively and skillfully just like a human hand.
Thus, NASA is quite proud and is collaborating with Maxar to demonstrate this progress. The first thing they will attempt to do is attach itself to an orbiting satellite.
SPIDER and its Functionalities
NASA’s robotic arm uses Maxar technology to synchronize with a spacecraft in orbit. This is the first goal of a Restore-L spacecraft. When that is achieved, the next goal is to capture, connect, and then refuel an in-orbit satellite. The whole process has to be done in space. Finally, it is capable of releasing the satellite into a new orbit as well.
Then, Maxar technology used for the robotic arm will be used to assemble a multi-panel antenna reflector, and test it. Once done successfully, the test mission will be marked accomplished.
- A lot of research has gone into developing manipulator robotic arms for decades.
- There are SCARA, Planar, Spherical, Cylindrical, and many more complex designs.
- The robotic arms are usually made of prismatic or revolute joints that are very highly governed by motors.
Truly Orienting and Maneuvering Orbital Satellite
At hundreds of miles away from the surface of the earth and orbiting at hundreds of miles per hour, this is a major risk for both the repaired vehicle as well as the satellite.
- Maxar is trying to remove the risks of sending manned missions by using a robotic arm.
- The orbital satellite can be repaired, replaced, modified, and expanded with a dexterous armed manipulator.
The final touches to this display by NASA engineers will be to add a 10-20 meter long piece of hardware, a Tethers Unlimited MakerSat, which will be inspected by the parent satellite, and then detached and reattached to demonstrate the robustness of the robotic arm. Maxar technology is at the core of designing this manipulator.
Assembly of an orbital satellite has been a challenge for NASA scientists for a very long time. In the earth’s Leo and Meo there are hundreds of satellites that have been discarded to date. Thus, this new technology is promising for a multitude of reasons.