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One of the challenges in delivering a mobile robot to the Moon is getting it off the lander and down to the surface. The video below shows the conceptual design of a ramp that unfolds from the lander using only a preloaded spring for power. During flight, the mechanism is clamped in place using frangibolts, which are electrically triggered release mechanisms. When the frangibolts release, the ramp unfolds under the control of a series of rigid hinged linkages called a four-bar mechanism.
Astrobotic is developing lightweight robotic excavators for the Moon to recover the rich volatiles at the poles. Recent data indicate that not all of these volatiles exist only in hard-to-reach dark crater floors -- some may be found in regions that periodically receive sunlight, but covered by an insulating layer of soil. These Astrobotic machines enable removal of the insulating dry soil to mine the water ice and other
Tomorrow (Thursday, July 23) the Senate Appropriations Committee will vote on the NASA budget, which so far in Congress has been rolled back from the great new direction proposed by the Administration to a jobs program for old-line aerospace companies and their too-expensive-to-use systems.
The Astrobotic Technology lunar rover will be powered by two motors mounted inside the body, powering chain drives to each side's wheels. The video below shows an initial test of one motor under load -- raising and lowering a 25-kg weight hanging from a pulley. Thermocouples taped to the motor and gear boxes measured how the heat generated during the test flowed down to the base plate during a two-hour run. To operate throughout the lunar day, the chief challenge is to cool the motors and electronics inside the rover. The motors must stay below 100 C.
The "Black Magic" test article, which will simulate the attitude control system on the Astrobotic lander, is now populated with most of its control hardware and the solenoid valves which will control the compressed air that substitutes for actual rocket thrusters during the simulation. Shown below is the top of the test article.
The Astrobotic spacecraft/lander requires an attitude control system (ACS) to keep itself oriented correctly on the flight to the Moon and during the nerve-wracking descent to the surface. "Black Magic" is the development system to lest the ACS' sensors and algorithms with cold gas thrusters in place of the hot gas thrusters that will be used in the actual lander.
The composite structure of the rover and lander will be baked with heat coming directly from the Sun, and reflected up from the hot lunar soil. To reflect as much radiation as possible, the Astrobotic team is experimenting with bonding a top Mylar foil layer on to the composite sandwich of carbon fiber fabric and resin that forms the main structure. Last week two four-inch-sqaure test articles were fabricated, one with a gold Mylar top and other other with silver Mylar, co-cured with the composite layers.
The Astrobotic lander has evolved to an all-composite design, with new locations to attach third-party payloads. The Payload Specifications document has been updated and can be downloaded here: http://astrobotictechnology.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/astrobotic-pa...
The Astrobotic Moon robot, Red Rover, is profiled in this shot taken at a Pittsburgh-area slag heap (waste rock left over from a steel mill), a site selected for its resemblance to the lunar surface.

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