Altius Space Machines DogTags Project Selected for NASA Funding

We’ve all heard of dogtags for dogs and for soldiers. But, for space robots?

That’s what Jonathan Goff’s Altius Space Machines will begin developing with NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I funding. The contract is worth $125,000 over six months.

Altius’s dogtags are lightweight, passive robotic interfaces that could be attached to habitat structures and objects. Examples of structures include human-tended deep space habitats and commercial manufacturing facilities in Easrth orbit that wouldn’t be permanently staffed.

“These robotic interaction aids ideally can serve three purposes: 1) helping robots determine their relative pose and position with respect to the target, and their relative location/pose inside or outside the habitat, 2) identifying what the objects are, especially if the objects are mobile like soft-goods bags, and 3) simplifying physical interactions with the object, including anchoring to and manipulating the object,” the proposal states.

The dogtags would help robots to outfit habitats prior to human occupation and to perform maintenance and logistics tasks when the facility is both occupied and empty.

A summary of the proposal follows.

Proposal Title: Robotic Interface DogTags for Autonomous Habitat Outfitting and Logistics
Subtopic Title: Habitat Outfitting

Small Business Concern
Altius Space Machines
Broomfield, CO

Principal Investigator/Project Manager
Mr. Jonathan Goff
Broomfield, CO

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 2
End: 3

Technical Abstract

One of the key elements of NASA’s future human exploration plans is the development of human-tended deep space habitats. These may serve as habitats during transfer from Earth to a destination (the Moon, Mars, etc), or serve as periodically-inhabited orbital bases.

For all of these deep-space habitats, especially ones left in orbit around a destination planet or Moon, astronaut time at the habitat will be both infrequent, and very valuable. As such it would be extremely desirable to develop ways to enable robots to outfit the habitat prior to human occupation, and to allow robots to perform maintenance and logistics tasks both when humans are present and when they are not.

These robotic interaction aids ideally can serve three purposes: 1) helping robots determine their relative pose and position with respect to the target, and their relative location/pose inside or outside the habitat, 2) identifying what the objects are, especially if the objects are mobile like soft-goods bags, and 3) simplifying physical interactions with the object, including anchoring to and manipulating the object.

To enable these types of robotic interactions, Altius proposes the development of a lightweight, low-cost, passive “DogTag” robotic interface that can be attached to various habitat structures and objects. The DogTag interface includes:

1) a thin (<0.4mm) ferromagnetic material layer that allows robots with magnetic grippers to stick to the DogTag,
2) a printed on long-range optical fiducial on the DogTag face for allowing the robot to determine relative pose and position of the object even from across a large habitat,
3) an identification code and possibly RFID tag for identifying the object, also on the DogTag face, and
4) methods for attaching the DogTag to the desired object.

During Phase I, Altius and team will define requirements, develop and test the optical fiducials and identification codes, and develop conceptual DogTag designs and prototypes, raising the TRL from 2 to 3.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

The key NASA applications for this robotic interface include: 1) enabling robotic outfitting of orbital habitats and related maintenance and logistics tasks by providing lightweight robotic navigation and capture interfaces that can be easily integrated into habitat structures, tools, and soft-goods bags, 2) robotic navigation and capture interfaces enabling free-flying robots to assist astronauts on EVA missions, 3) lightweight robotic navigation and capture interfaces for cooperative satellite servicing.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

The key non-NASA applications of this robotic interface are:

1) robotic navigation and capture interfaces for robotic outfitting, maintenance, and logistics support for commercial human-tended space facilities,
2) lightweight robotic interface tags for drone package delivery systems,
3) lightweight robotic navigation and capture interfaces for cooperative satellite servicing,
4) robotic navigation and capture interfaces for mega-constellation satellites to interface with the magnetic grippers, and
5) robotic navigation and capture interfaces for upper stage capture for on-orbit refueling of upper stages.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • Attitude Determination & Control
  • Coatings/Surface Treatments
  • Data Processing
  • Image Processing
  • Inventory Management/Warehousing
  • Material Handing & Packaging
  • Relative Navigation (Interception, Docking, Formation Flying; see also Control & Monitoring; Planetary Navigation, Tracking, & Telemetry)
  • Robotics (see also Control & Monitoring; Sensors)
  • Superconductance/Magnetics
  • Tools/EVA Tools

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