ASSEMBLERS: Truss-Like Modular Robots

ASSEMBLERS are truss-like robots, intended to be modular, lightweight, inexpensive, redundant, and precise. They would act as a common interface for expansion to other manipulators and tools. The intent of ASSEMBLERS is to create a modular payload interface, combining a long reach manipulator and a precision positioner. This will also create a permanent space platform. Research for this includes novel mechanical joints, multi-agent algorithms, state estimation with vision, and a testbed for CNN algorithms. ASSEMBLERS is developed in the contact of surface assembly, but generalizable for in-space use.

This project is in partnership with NASA via the Space Act Agreement.

Lightweight Surface Manipulation Systems

The Lightweight Surface Manipulation System (LSMS) was developed at NASA Langley Research Center. The LSMS is a 12m arm with a 150kg payload. It is a hybrid of crane-type lifting devices and robotic manipulators intended for use in lifting and precise positioning. The LSMS utilizes winches and cable systems to resist pulling force with tube members to resist pushing forces. It also allows for another limb to be added for increased modularity. The FASER Lab is currently in the process of building a full-scale LSMS, which is a unique capability at a university.

In addition, a miniature version of the LSMS is being developed for collaborative assembly with the full-scale LSMS.

Online Rapid Structure Health Monitoring and Estimation

In order to create structure-aware state estimation and fault detection algorithms, FEM is incorporated into the simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) algorithm. This project also investigates machine learning for rapid, online first approximations, including the locations of faults based on sensors, deflections and dynamics prediction, and anomaly calls for high fidelity models.

This uses structure images, joint images, tracked markers, and vibration response to create combined vectors. This, in turn, is used for state estimation and fault detection to predict the finite element method (FEM) and update the measurements. These values create a structure status, giving an estimate of the structure’s positioning and location, detected faults, and the location of each fault.

This project was awarded the Virginia Space Grant Consortium New Investigator Award.

In-Situ Resource Utilization: Ice Extraction

The FASER Lab is participating in the 2019 RASC-AL Special Edition: Moon to Mars Ice & Prospecting Challenge. This is a student contest and a collaboration between lab members and senior design teams. The Overburden Layer Ice-to-Vapor Extracting Robot (OLIVER) is designed for autonomous in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) water mining and filtration. In an in-space demonstration, OLIVER would utilize low-pressure atmospheric manipulation in order to evaporate freshly melted water from a drilled borehole, which would be condensed through the use of a vacuum pump. In order to extract the largest amount of water from any given drill site, OLIVER will deploy an in-site heating element with an agitator into the pre-drilled borehole.

For use on Earth and in competition, with a higher pressure atmosphere, OLIVER utilizes vinyl tubing instead of low-pressure atmospheric manipulation to extract water, rather than vapor. For in-space operations, it is recommended that the drilling and extraction systems are separated in order to deploy multiple extraction units with one drilling unit or to isolate the drilling unit as a long-term, self-contained water well for future extractions.

OLIVER will later be incorporated into surface operations hardware experiments.

Earth-Based Assembly

This assembly process is designed for repeatable and quick assembly. Any solution needs to be rapidly reconfigurable for new tasks while producing solutions for variable joining methods, without damaging the components.

This project is being developed in the context of office furniture assembly.

Upcoming Publications

Publications in preparation include:

  • A methodology for on-orbit autonomous collaborative manipulation, deployment, and assembly
  • Full-scale hardware verification of autonomous solar array backbone deployment and tool repositioning
  • A strategy for accurate, correctable on-orbit construction with imprecise components and recursive state estimation
  • Hardware verification of accurate piece-wise truss assembly by collaborative long reach and precise manipulators

The targeted publishers are AIAA Journal, Acta Astronautica, Aerospace Science and Technology, and Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets.