NASA Developing Robots to Enable Assembly of Solar Arrays on the Moon

The NASA Assemblers project is a recently awarded Early Career Initiative (ECI) proposal led out of NASA’s Langley Research Center, seeks to advance the technology, including hardware and software, that would allow autonomous in-space assembly, a critical technology for future human exploration and being able to live and work further on the Moon and Mars.

Above – Assemblers: A Modular and Reconfigurable Manipulation System for Autonomous In-Space Assembly, is an Early Career Initiative project led by James Neilan at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
Credits: NASA’s Langley Research Center

The Assemblers robots consist of stacked platforms that have actuators providing 6 degrees of freedom of movement between two bases and sensors that provide feedback on where components are located. The team is working on algorithms for software so that the robots could choose how many platforms to stack and the right tool for the task at hand. It would also calculate trajectories so routes are deconflicted and it could identify and correct any errors during the build process.

“The project goal is to increase the technology readiness level for the modular robot, autonomous in-space assembly, and develop a robotic prototype for ground testing,” said James Neilan, principal investigator.

The prototype will be a modular autonomous manipulation system that uses platforms that stack up to any size to allow multiple configurations to assemble components in space. It will use task management software to allow robots of various configurations and capabilities to work together. There’s also an error detection and configuration component that could be used during and after a build to identify and address any issues.

The ECI award provides $2.5 million over two years to allow the team to bring together a cohesive system from the pieces that have been incubated over time, fill in the missing pieces and mature the technology. It also allows early-career employees to get management experience using an “agile” system, helping transform the way NASA manages projects to allow work to happen in “sprints” with regular small check-ins instead of larger reviews.