Such conditions can be a problem for modern spacecraft that rely on energy-intensive heaters.
JPL offers a solution that will allow research to be carried out during the moonlit night. The project that was recently tested at JPL is the Cold Operable Lunar Deployable Arm (COLDArm).
It combines several new technologies to create a robotic arm capable of operating in temperatures as low as -173°C.
The 2m arm is equipped with two 3D mapping cameras that share the same image sensor as the 13MP color camera of NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter.
Various devices and small tools can be installed on the arm. COLDArm will also be able to bring devices to the surface.
COLDArm has successfully passed tests on the JPL test bench, which evaluated its ability to collect data on the properties of regolith.
Now the device has been sent for testing in space-like conditions. The launch of COLDArm is planned for the late 2020s.
Several key new technologies enable the COLDArm system to operate in extreme conditions. The lever uses gears made of metallic glass.
This hard metal material with a unique composition and structure is stronger and more elastic than ceramics and steel. Gears from it do not require lubrication or heating to work in the cold.
Since the hand cold engine controllers do not need to be kept warm in the electronics box near the spacecraft core, they can be mounted closer to the scientific instruments.
A sensor built into the COLDArm ‘wrist’ provides feedback to the hand, allowing it to ‘feel’ what it is doing in all directions, much like a person inserting a key into a keyhole and turning a lock.
This six-axis torque sensor can also work in extreme cold conditions.
In addition to cameras, COLDArm uses other technologies that have been proven aboard Ingenuity: a powerful processor and open source flight software called F Prime, developed by JPL.
Like a helicopter, COLDArm will be able to operate autonomously, performing tasks and collecting images and sensor data without real-time input from mission controllers on the ground.
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