NASA SBIR 2009 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 09-2 X6.01-9100
SUBTOPIC TITLE: Robotic Systems for Human Exploration
PROPOSAL TITLE: Lightweight Robotic Excavation

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Firm Name, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Astrobotic Technology, Inc.
4551 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213 - 3524
(412) 682-3282

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
David Gump
4551 Forbes Avenue #300
Pittsburgh, PA 15213 - 3524
(412) 682-3282

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 3
End: 4

TECHNICAL ABSTRACT (Limit 2000 characters, approximately 200 words)
Lightweight robotic excavators address the need for machines that dig,
collect, transport and dump lunar soil. Robust and productive small
robots enable mining rich and accessible deposits of ice and other
volatiles buried near craters at the lunar poles, delivering resources to
produce propellant, and thus making space exploration sustainable.
Lightweight excavators bridge the gap between prospecting and full-scale

A lightweight robot is proposed that excavates and delivers regolith with
production so superior to the state of the art as to enable realistic
lunar and planetary applications. Demonstration of light weight will be
achieved by operating a low mass robot in Earth gravity reduced 5/6 by

The significance of the proposed innovation is an approach that not only
performs the required tasks but is low in mass (30 kg to 150 kg). Mass
constraints make productive excavation challenging. However, innovative
designs incorporating transverse bucket-wheels, high payload composite
dump beds, and high-speed driving are game changers, enabling regolith
operations in low gravity. Phase 1 experimental results show that payload
ratio and driving speed govern productivity of small robots.

Phase 2 will elevate TRLs from 3 at the beginning to an estimated 4 or 5
at end of contract.

POTENTIAL NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
Astrobotic Technology intends to develop the lightweight robotic excavator into several flight missions, selling its services to NASA on a per-task basis or proposing the excavator for NASA-operated missions. The initial mission will demonstrate delivery to a precursor ISRU processing plant and characterize the forces and time required to remove the dry overburden that protects polar volatiles in periodically illuminated regions. This is a crucial step in gathering the data required to determine whether propellant production from polar volatiles will be cost effective. Because solar power is available for this location at certain times of the year, a commercial approach is feasible -- no isotopes are required. Assuming propellant production from polar volatiles is economically justified, then Astrobotic excavators will be integral to the process.

The excavator also will support scientific missions, because its precision control over digging depth will make it the first choice for revealing the regolith stratigraphy at investigative sites.

POTENTIAL NON-NASA COMMERCIAL APPLICATIONS (Limit 1500 characters, approximately 150 words)
Any space-faring nation seeking to explore and settle the Moon will at least double the productivity of its lunar missions if they purchase the propellant needed to refuel their landers for return to Earth from ISRU plants on the Moon. The excavator is key to early ISRU because its solar power makes it suitable for exploiting the volatiles that are believed to exist in easily accessible locations outside crater floors.

Polar volatiles eventually will be exported to Earth orbit where multiple commercial markets will be served. Low Earth orbit spacecraft, especially government and private space stations, can use them for orbit reboost. Commercial communications and remote sensing satellites can be delivered to low orbit, then be lofted to high orbits via reusable transfer vehicles fueled by lunar propellants. By eliminating the mass of the upper stages now employed to reach geosynchronous and other high orbits, these satellites can become heavier and more productive, or they can be launched on smaller and less expensive boosters.

Small excavation robotics have commercialization opportunities in earthworking equipment. In terrestrial construction, small excavation machines are specialized for work in tight spaces, but even the smallest are still on-board human operated. Further minimization of machines can be achieved via teleoperation and autonomy, with the added benefit of enabling work in dangerous confined environments without risking the operator's life.

TECHNOLOGY TAXONOMY MAPPING (NASA's technology taxonomy has been developed by the SBIR-STTR program to disseminate awareness of proposed and awarded R/R&D in the agency. It is a listing of over 100 technologies, sorted into broad categories, of interest to NASA.)
In-situ Resource Utilization

Form Generated on 08-06-10 17:29