The proposed innovation involves using multiple stages of magnetic gears to achieve an extremely high gear ratio (Z5.05). Gearing is often critical for aerospace applications because the size and mass of a motor are more strongly correlated to its torque rating than its power rating. Therefore, coupling a high-speed and, thus, relatively small and lightweight motor to the load through a gearbox can significantly reduce system size and mass relative to a direct-drive system with a low-speed and, thus, relatively large and heavy motor and no gearbox. However, mechanical gears introduce additional challenges to the system, including additional maintenance requirements and reduced reliability, which are unacceptable for space applications. Additionally, it can be difficult to keep mechanical gearboxes adequately lubricated in extremely cold environments. On the other hand, magnetic gears transfer power through the interaction of magnetic fields, instead of mechanical contact. This noncontact operation allows magnetic gears to potentially mitigate the reliability, maintenance, and lubrication challenges associated with mechanical gears.
Phase I results will provide a strong indication of whether the topology will be viable to achieve the gear ratio, torque density, and efficiency requirements for space applications. The prototype for space applications has the potential to increase reliability, reduce maintenance, and eliminate the lubrication challenges associated with mechanical gearbozes currently used in lunar rover technologies. The resulting technology can be used to contribute to more capable and reliable lunar robots in general.
This prototype will advance magnetic gearing technology in general. High gear ratio magnetic gear technology is applicable to low-speed terrestrial applications, from robotic joints to wind turbines and wave energy converters. While these applications have different gear ratio, size, cost, and environmental constraints, they can benefit from MG with higher gear ratios than previous prototypes.