Check out NASA’s asteroid-catching robot arms

In the preparation for the 2021 Asteroid Redirect Mission, this is a prototype of a robot capture module system makes use of a mock asteroid boulder as a test at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. (Credit: NASA)

NASA is set to launch the robot part of the Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) in 2021. This will be the first mission to visit and gather a multi-ton sample from a large near-Earth asteroid. The collected sample can be used in a demonstration enhanced gravity tractor asteroid deflection.

Recently on the Robotic Operation Center of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, a robot capture module system prototype used a mock asteroid boulder to test its capabilities. [NASA’s Asteroid-Capture Mission in Pictures]

NASA, together with students from the University of West Virginia, made the mock asteroid boulder of rock, styrofoam, plywood, and an interior with an aluminum frame. The hardware of the robot for the project includes three space frame legs with foot pads and two of the seven degrees of freedom of the arms with microspine grippers to hold on to the rock.

Within the ROC, engineers have several tools — industrial robots, motion-based platforms, and custom algorithms to help create simulations of robotic spacecraft operating in space. Engineers also have the opportunity to practice and perfect robot satellite servicing, fine-tuning systems and controllers, and the optimization of the performance factors for the future repair and refueling missions.

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  • Asteroid Redirect Mission

  • NASA’s Asteroid-Capture Mission in Pictures

This section of the ARM is the recovered asteroid sample in a stable orbit around the moon. Future astronauts will explore the stone and the retrieval of samples for review. NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission is the advancement in technologies and spaceflight experience, necessary for the growth of the manned Mars missions scheduled for the 2030s.

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