This electro-mechanical device provides torque and/or orientation control for
robotic astronaut assistants in manned space vehicles and small unmanned spacecraft.
Advanced Miniature Reaction Wheel
Capitalizing on our broad and integrated skill sets of design, analysis, fabrication,
testing, and project management in Mechanical, Electronic, and Controls Engineering,
NASA Ames’ Project Development Division has produced two generations of small
advanced reaction wheels for use in robotic astronaut assistants and small spacecraft.
Our expertise in mechanical and electronic CAD, finite element analysis, computer
aided controls design/simulation, rapid prototyping, testing, and project management
are ready to be harnessed to produce the next, further miniaturized generation
of these devices and other space technology designs.
Image right: Miniature reaction wheels are extremely energy efficient.
These reaction wheels have been developed for the Personal Satellite Assistant
(PSA), a variety of self-propelled robotic assistants intended to assist astronauts
both inside and outside of manned space vehicles for tasks such as inspection,
monitoring, repair, and communication. The PSA, developed at NASA Ames, and the
JSC AerCam are two examples of such robots presently being developed for inside
and outside tasks, respectively. These concepts are likely to be just the beginning
of a broad class of miniature robots.
Miniature reaction wheels can be used to rotate and orient the pitch, roll, and
yaw of these types of robots with high energy efficiency and precise control.
A reaction wheel is basically a flywheel mounted on a central bearing, which is
given angular acceleration by the torque of an integrated motor. The resulting
counter torque causes the body to which the reaction wheel is attached to rotate
in the opposite direction. Not only is the energy expended for this task extremely
efficient, but also much of the energy can be recouped regeneratively, if desired.