Motiv’s xLink Robotic Arm to be Used in “Space Lego” Program
The U.S. Space Force has announced a $1.6 million contract through its SpaceWERX research arm to demonstrate the construction of a 3-axis stabilized satellite on the Arkisys Port Module, a hexagonal long-duration space-based platform. The ground-based demonstration’s aim is to validate the ability of space robotics to assemble multiple individual components into a complete spacecraft. Those modules, developed by NovaWurks and called “space Legos,” or “Slegos,” are boxes that can be combined into a fully functional satellite.
To facilitate construction of the spacecraft, Motiv Space Systems’ xLink robotic arm will be tasked with moving and adjusting the individual Slegos. xLink is a modular and scalable robotic arm designed to provide enhanced space-rated manipulation capabilities at a fraction of the cost of existing robotic arm systems.
The goal is to use the xLink robotic system, which will be attached to the Port Module, to move at least three Slegos modules containing spacecraft-pointing, information-processing, and data-storage capabilities, to assemble the satellite. To facilitate stabilizing the Port Module, researchers from Texas A&M will work with the team to develop methods that address the forces imparted by xLink.
Motiv’s xLink robotic arm is a natural evolution and fusion of traditional space heritage robotics, such as the Mars 2020 Perseverance arm, and a demand for modular new space applications leveraging inspiration from industrial robotic practices. This flexibility can be used for individual components or complete robotic arms.
The ability for xLink to perform on-orbit assembly of spacecraft is key to the success of the Space Force demonstration. The dextrous system can be used to relocate the individual Slego components to demonstrate assembly techniques. This modular approach to robotic spacecraft assembly enables new design philosophies unconstrained by traditional launch fairing requirements. On-orbit assembly offers benefits in the reduction of design complexity when compared with traditional monolithic origami style deployments.
Through the combination of the Arkisys Port Module, Slego, and xLink robotics, the team will be advancing necessary technologies to not only enable on-orbit assembly, but also advance servicing capabilities to support spacecraft life extension or payload enhancements.