Motiv Reaches Into The Future With COLDArm
Concluding our four-part series on the history of space robotics – and Motiv’s role in their development, with RoboMantis, xLink™, and the arm of Perseverance – now we look at COLDArm.
NASA’s Artemis program aims to establish long-term human presence on the Moon by the end of the decade. Robots will play an integral role in laying the groundwork – and building the base infrastructure – for eventual astronaut arrival. Robots will also help future explorers locate and extract natural resources – such as water ice – necessary for sustained survival on the Moon.
NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) lander program sends robotic rovers and landers to the Moon, to be used and adapted for planned Artemis missions. In collaboration with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Motiv Space Systems created the Cold Operable Lunar Deployable Arm (COLDArm) – a modular component of the CLPS program.
Following their successful development of the robotic arm now in use on the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover – as well as the xLink™ and RoboMantis systems – Motiv set out to build a different kind of space-capable arm – one that can operate in the extreme cold (and radiation) of the Moon’s surface environment.
Engineering For Extreme Cold
The team at Motiv faced the considerable challenge of creating a robotic system that can remain operable at cryogenic lunar temperatures. COLDArm’s lubricant-free mechanical components, built with bulk metallic glass gears, were engineered to function without heating or insulation, at temperatures as low as -180°C (-279°F).
Because COLDArm requires no external heating systems for operation in such extreme cold, its power can be directed toward core robotic capabilities – allowing greater productivity, with slower power consumption. Even COLDArm’s electronics have been engineered not to freeze up under cryogenic conditions.
Among modern space robotics, COLDArm is unique for its reduced power consumption in cold environments – enabling longer periods of robotic activity. Plus, COLDArm’s adaptability makes it a suitable component for rovers and landers of all types.
What Does COLDArm Do?
The versatile COLDArm can be fitted to perform a variety of mobility tasks on the Moon. The first Artemis missions will deliver equipment for exploration and settlement, in preparation for astronaut arrival in 2024. COLDArm is designed for applications requiring strength, dexterity, and flexibility.
As a modular component, COLDArm can be configured for a range of complex mobility tasks. Material transport, equipment construction, base maintenance – COLDArm is built to handle tasks that would otherwise have to be completed by humans. It’s equipped with a scoop and penetrometer, allowing penetration and inspection of the lunar regolith – to prospect for potential resources.
Any future settlement on the Moon will rely on the continued use of robotic equipment like COLDArm. Robots will be instrumental in building a base that can sustain a long-term human presence. In between astronaut visits, robots will stay on the Moon, performing maintenance as needed – repairs, upgrades, groundskeeping, housekeeping.
Building For Future Lunar Settlement
Lessons learned from early Artemis missions will help scientists understand the logistics of building a lunar base, and plan for the deployment of a robotic construction crew.
If COLDArm can remain operable through cold nights on the Moon’s South Pole, its technology can be applied to the development of other robotic equipment that will function in the extreme cold. The first Artemis missions represent trial by ice, rather than fire.
The team at Motiv is committed to the continual development of robotics that facilitates exploration and understanding of deep space.