Meet xLink™ – A Robotic Arm System Developed By Motiv
Continuing our four-part blog series on the history of space robotics – and Motiv Space Systems’ contributions to the field – in this part we examine the utility of the robotic arm.
Modern space exploration would not be possible without the aid of robotics. Today, humankind works in concert with complex, capable robotic equipment to accomplish missions to the Moon, to Mars, and into space itself.
The Robotic Arm Of xLink™
In 2020, Motiv introduced xLink™ to the world. An innovative robotic arm system, xLink™ is a scalable, modular, and customizable – designed to complete a variety of on-orbit and extraterrestrial tasks.
In addition to its state-of-the-art engineering, a notable distinguishing feature of xLink™ is its price point. While most space-capable robotics are affordable only to government-funded programs, xLink™ is available at a fraction of the cost of competing robotic arm systems. Its cost-effective design opens accessibility to a wider customer base – thus creating new horizons for on-orbit space ventures.
Informed by Motiv’s work on RoboMantis – the earthbound robot built for mobile utility in emergency-response situations – and on the Mars 2020 mission, the modular xLink™ system is capable of performing a range of on-orbit assembly and satellite servicing tasks. Its modularity helps facilitate a building-block approach to on-orbit construction, repair, and maintenance operations – from connecting components to positioning equipment, to other tasks requiring high levels of strength and dexterity.
Depending on the payload capacity of the launching spacecraft, sending fully assembled satellites into space isn’t always feasible – or affordable. On-orbit assembly allows greater possibilities for satellite construction – and future design. Launching unassembled pieces of a satellite structure into space, for subsequent on-orbit assembly, brings efficiency and scalability to space construction. And, the affordability of the xLink™ system invites new parties to the fields of space exploration and settlement.
On-Orbit Robotic Operation
Building structures out in space, rather than launching them from Earth fully built, has its logistical complications – yet it can be far more cost-effective to assemble the pieces on orbit than to launch them fully assembled. The xLink™ robotic arm system helps build structures that cannot fit in a launch vehicle. On-orbit construction of large structures addresses the question of: how are we getting this thing into outer space?
Capable of integration with different operating platforms, the modular xLink™ system can be adapted to complete critical tasks at each stage of on-orbit assembly, construction, and manufacturing. In addition, xLink™ can be used to upgrade operational on-orbit satellite equipment, by replacing older or broken components with new ones – prolonging service life.
The Advanced Use Of Space Robotics
To help build structures in space, to repair/maintain/upgrade on-orbit satellite equipment, and even to clean up orbital debris (space junk), the xLink™ system brings an advanced capability to the field of space robotics. In time, the xLink™ system may also be used to collect samples from in-situ rovers, for return to Earth.
The first planned mission for xLink™ is aboard NASA’s OSAM-2 (On-orbit Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing) spacecraft, expected to launch in 2022. The OSAM-2 will utilize the xLink™ arm system to position an on-orbit 3D printer and to assist in connecting the printed structural beams. The assembled beams will form an energy-generating solar array.
Completion of the OSAM-2 mission will help demonstrate the utility and cost-effectiveness of on-orbit construction using space robotics like the xLink™ system. Making space construction more scalable and affordable accelerates innovation and development in the realm of human-robot collaboration.
Widening The Field Of Space Exploration
Once exclusive to federally funded programs, the domain of space exploration has grown to be inclusive of the wider scientific community. The xLink™ system was developed, in large part, for cost-efficiency. The scalability of xLink™ opens the door to new prospects in commercial applications.
Motiv aims to make space robotics available to a wider customer base. Learn more about the xLink™ robotic arm and contact us to discuss how it can support your mission in space.