Astrobotic to Develop Wireless Charging System for Use on Moon with NASA Award

The Astrobotic CubeRover traverses the terrain in the Granular Mechanics and Regolith Operations Laboratory regolith bin on Dec. 10, 2020. Also in the bin is NASA’s Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot (RASSOR), a robotic platform designed to dig on the Moon. The regolith bin simulates the Moon’s surface. (Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett)

Astrobotic will develop a wireless charging system for use on the lunar surface with the help of a NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award.

“There are several applications that necessitate proximity chargers in space. In relation to the Moon, these activities include supporting marsupial roving missions, enabling robotic systems that do not contain onboard nuclear or solar power generators, charging toolkits on crewed lunar terrain vehicles, and powering the heaters of critical devices to survive the lunar night. Near-field wireless power transmitters are important tools to reduce regolith incursion in mechanically mated systems and static joints,” Astrobotic said in its proposal summary.

There are also a number of terrestrial uses for the technology.

:”Robotic systems are increasingly utilized in warehouses, energy/utility plants, construction sites, mines, and for last mile delivery applications. Underwater robotic systems enable ocean research for aquaculture, ocean mapping and maritime trade security inspections. All of these systems are battery powered and require recharging to maintain a high level of reliability and automation,” Astrobotic said.

The Pittsburgh-based company has teamed with WiBotic to develop the system, which will be particularly useful for dust-intensive applications. The SBIR Phase II award is worth up to $750,000.

A summary of the proposal follows.

High Power Near-Field Wireless Transfer for Dust Intensive Applications
Subtopic: Dust Tolerant Mechanisms
Award: up to $750,000

Astrobotic Technology, Inc.
Pittsburgh, PA

Principal Investigator: Lance Radue

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL)
Begin: 4
End: 5

Duration: 24 months

Technical Abstract

A great challenge with power management is the way power is transmitted to other devices. Traditional space systems operate through nuclear, solar, or tethered power mechanisms that require great complexity and process to qualify and operate. Tethered systems are hindered tremendously by mechanically mated components that are prone to regolith incursion and that require large robotically generated forces for interconnection. Furthermore, astronauts suffer from limited suit dexterity to manipulate and manage such systems.

Nuclear powered systems require intensive handling procedures, and in many cases, presidential authority to launch—greatly increasing the cost and schedule of such missions. Solar powered systems require continuous access to the Sun and must follow predicated operational plans to maximize sunlight exposure and limit system duty cycles, ultimately constraining system performance.

A wireless charging system mitigates these challenges for standalone systems that are unable to generate power independently through such traditional methods. Furthermore, a product such as this could have great utility not only on the Moon, but also in critical space applications on Mars, in orbit, and beyond.

The proposing team of Astrobotic and WiBotic, are developing a charging solution that can satisfy these needs. The performance and specifications were initially targeted for multi-kW applications, but through discussions with customers and NASA we have learned a 400 W product is more favorable. The targeted specifications are as follows:

  • Dust tolerant design for 1 µm lunar regolith particles
  • Charging rate of 400W, suitable for mid to large size battery powered vehicles
  • Charging range of 0-4cm (horizontal spacing), +/-5cm (lateral misalignment), 0-70deg (angular misalignment)
  • Mass of 8kg
  • Compact base station size of 29 x 37 x 15 cm and power receiver size of 15 x 11 x 5 cm
  • Operational temperature range of -200C to +86C to enable operations at the lunar pole and equator

Potential NASA Applications

There are several applications that necessitate proximity chargers in space. In relation to the Moon, these activities include supporting marsupial roving missions, enabling robotic systems that do not contain onboard nuclear or solar power generators, charging toolkits on crewed lunar terrain vehicles, and powering the heaters of critical devices to survive the lunar night. Near-field wireless power transmitters are important tools to reduce regolith incursion in mechanically mated systems and static joints.

Potential Non-NASA Applications

Robotic systems are increasingly utilized in warehouses, energy/utility plants, construction sites, mines, and for last mile delivery applications. Underwater robotic systems enable ocean research for aquaculture, ocean mapping and maritime trade security inspections. All of these systems are battery powered and require recharging to maintain a high level of reliability and automation.