Tethers Unlimited Developing Software Payload for Astrobee Free-flier

Astrobee (Credit: NASA)

Tethers Unlimited will continue to develop a software payload for the Astrobee free flying robot under a NASA contract.

The space agency selected the Bothell, Wash company for a Small Business Innovation Research Phase II award to continue development of its AstroPorter software. The award is worth up to $750,000 over two years.

“AstroPorter has direct applications outside of the ISS in robotic on-orbit servicing scenarios which require a servicer to couple with a client,” according to the proposal summary. “AstroPorter will enable interaction between Astrobee and other robotic systems on the ISS, such as TUI’s KRAKEN Robotic Arm in the MANTIS EXPRESS Rack locker, and it will enable multiple Astrobees to work in tandem for challenging tasks such as the transfer of large cargo – such as the ISS’s Cargo Transfer Bags (CTBs).

“The AstroPorter collaborative robotics technology is a key element of TUI’s roadmap for developing in-space assembly and servicing capabilities. AstroPorter GNC methods will enable TUI’s LEO Knight microsat servicer to interact with client satellitessatellites,” the summary added. “AstroPorter is directly relevant to in-space assembly, such as the DARPA OrbWeaver program, where robots will construct a reflector on-orbit.”

The summary follows.

Tethers Unlimited, Inc.
Bothell, WA

AstroPorter
Subtitle Title: Payload Technologies for Free-Flying Robots

Principal Investigator
Dr. Nathan Britton

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL):
Begin: 4
End: 6

Technical Abstract

Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) proposes to develop a software payload for the Astrobee free-flier to enable multi-agent collaborative robotics tasks for automation of human spacecraft, and robotic on-orbit servicing. AstroPorter is built on a mass property estimator capability and enables spacecraft to dynamically adjust its GNC parameters through the course of coupling to other robotic agents, picking up large payloads, and handing them off.

AstroPorter has direct applications outside of the ISS in robotic on-orbit servicing scenarios which require a servicer to couple with a client. AstroPorter will enable interaction between Astrobee and other robotic systems on the ISS, such as TUI’s KRAKEN Robotic Arm in the MANTIS EXPRESS Rack locker, and it will enable multiple Astrobees to work in tandem for challenging tasks such as the transfer of large cargo – such as the ISS’s Cargo Transfer Bags (CTBs).

The AstroPorter solution will include a set of interface guidelines for “last-mile” problems such as the retrieval of payloads and cargo from stowage and the logistics of delivery to autonomous systems. In the Phase I effort, the mass property estimator was developed and tested using TUI’s Zero-G Test Facility, maturing the TRL of AstroPorter from TRL 2 to TRL 4.

In the Phase II, the mass property estimator will be deployed to Astrobee and tested on the Astrobee Facility. Additionally, control software will be developed to enable stable control through transient state transitions of the Astrobee during a payload transfer operation, maturing the TRL to 6.

Potential NASA Applications

AstroPorter is a crosscutting technology that directly addresses three of the NASA 2015 Technology Roadmap Areas: 4.2.7 Collaborative Mobility, 4.3.5 Collaborative Manipulation, and 4.5.4 Multi-Agent Coordination. AstroPorter is an essential technology for space station automation with free-flier service craft such as Astrobee. AstroPorter will be demonstrated on the ISS in Phase II to lay the foundation for applications in future human spacecraft, such as the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G), or long-duration deep space craft.

Potential Non-NASA Applications

The AstroPorter collaborative robotics technology is a key element of TUI’s roadmap for developing in-space assembly and servicing capabilities. AstroPorter GNC methods will enable TUI’s LEO Knight microsat servicer to interact with client satellites. AstroPorter is directly relevant to in-space assembly, such as the DARPA OrbWeaver program, where robots will construct a reflector on-orbit.

Duration: 24 months