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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.
This week the Astrobotic team deployed Red Rover's third prototype in a Pittsburgh-area slag heap to begin evaluating its ability to handle outdoor terrain with loose rocks and challenging slopes. (Slag heaps are fields of waste rock left over from the refining of iron ore at steel mills.)
Astrobotic and its partners at Carnegie Mellon University presented their technical developments several times this week at the NASA exploration workshop in Galveston and at Johnson Space Center in Houston, showing advancements in operating throughout the lunar day, surviving hibernation during the long lunar night, and unstoppable mobility solutions. Dr. Red Whittaker, Astrobotic's chairman and founder of the Field Robotics Center at CMU, led the delegation, which included President David Gump and Chief Engineer John Thornton.

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