NE@Lunar Robot Arm

NE@Lunar Robot Arm
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NE@Lunar Robot Arm

Built from ordinary household and professional products, the Lunar Surface Manipulator System or LSMS shows huge promise as a potential manipulator for NASA’s permanent outpost on the Moon. NASA EDGE learns all about this developing proof of concept from Senior Engineer John Dorsey at NASA Langley Research Center. Boasting a lot of flexibility and ease of use, it may be just the ticket for even the most unsophisticated medianaut to operate. The Co-Host may have a shot after all.

CHRIS: Welcome to NASA EDGE.

BLAIR: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.

CHRIS: We’re right here at NASA Langley Research Center with John Dorsey who is going to talk to us about LSMS. What is this LSMS?

JOHN: LSMS is a shorthand acronym for the Lunar Surface Manipulation System. As part of NASA’s exploration program, Returning to the Moon, this time to establish more of a permanent presence at a fixed location, we need some different capabilities than what we would have had with Apollo.

CHRIS: Essentially this is a crane, this LSMS.

BLAIR: As I like to call it, the lunar Leatherman.

JOHN: It’s actually a cross between a crane and a manipulator. If you look at manipulators, manipulators are usually very dexterous, have a large number of degrees of freedom. They can pick up things, and position them very accurately. Our device does both. The are three degrees of freedom on this device: a waist joint that allows the whole thing to rotate; a shoulder joint that allows articulation; and an elbow joint that allows articulation. By having three degrees of freedom, we can pick up payloads and position them fairly accurately. This is the first one that’s ever been built, pretty much all off the shelf hardware in terms of materials. It’s aluminum, extrusions, off the shelf motors, some specialized controllers and control systems.

BLAIR: It’s not like NASA. This is to give an idea. Obviously, it will look very different when we get to the final product.

JOHN: This is a proof of concept to demonstrate operations. The actual device, if we were to build it, take it to the lunar surface, would look very similar to what you see here. What we would do, for example, is these are aluminum extrusions. We can get a lot of benefit by switching the composites. We get much lighter compression numbers. The motor we have on top of the king post is an off the shelf motor and off the shelf hoist system. It will be a very lightweight device when built using space type hardware.

CHRIS: How big is this crane?

JOHN: We call the vertical member the king post. We’ve got the arm link and the forearm link. Each one is 3.75 meters long. It’s designed to be a full-scale manipulator. This is sized so that if it was sitting on the lunar surface, it’s got the correct reach so it can reach up and take stuff off the Lander and lower it on to a mobility chassis.

CHRIS: When we get back to the moon and our Lunar Outpost is well under way, do you envision a number of these cranes, maybe different sizes and shapes?

JOHN: We have a lot of versatility in this design. So, given a particular payload, we can design a specific crane or manipulator to do that job. However, we always thinking we can’t take too many things to the lunar surface. We can’t take a lot of weight. So ideally, if you knew before you went what most of the operations were; what the max payload was; what the max reach was. You could design one device to take care of all the operations.

CHRIS: Brilliant.

BLAIR: That’s awesome. And if you needed one extension for one piece of hardware you were sending up, you could do that, instead of building in a lot of extra options.

JOHN: What we see here with the post and two lengths, we have versions, just for the heck of it… You can see one length version here. This one when we wanted a specific design that would stay on the Lander and off-load the Lander. So, we didn’t need that extra arm. This one with the two lengths, arm and forearm, we’ve actually designed that so it can self off-load from the Lander. When the first one lands on the Lander, the first job it does is unload that Lander. Then the tip of the manipulator can plug into a grapple fixture somewhere on the Lander. The base releases and then using the degrees of freedom in the device, the base can go down and attach itself to a mobility chassis, like ATHLETE, plug itself in, release the tip. Now, I’ve got a mobile manipulator that can now go around the base, unload, subsequent Landers when they come in. It’s also designed so we can change the manipulators on the tip of the crane so you can put cameras out there, repair devices, inspection devices. It can do a lot of different jobs.

CHRIS: As you mature this piece of hardware, Blair wants to be the first “medianaut” to go to the moon by the end of the next decade. He’s learning how he’s going to live on the lunar surface. If you can build in some simplicity, so he can operate it himself…

BLAIR: More simplicity is the key.

CHRIS: That’s the key for him. If it’s too technical for him, it’s a lost cause up on the moon.

JOHN: Within our human robotic systems project, we are not only working the devices like manipulators and mobility chassis, like CHARIOT and ATHLETE, but we’re also building the automation and control architecture that drives all the devices.

CHRIS: Look at that.

JOHN: There you go. We’ll have three levels of control.

BLAIR: That’s great. I’ll fit right in.

JOHN: The simplest level is fully automated. You tell it a task and push a button. It goes and does it. We would also have another level of control, which is more like teleoperations.

CHRIS: That means there’s somebody in another room with a remote control stick.

JOHN: Somebody at a remote station; it could be right next door. For example, you could be sitting in the HAB, next door to this on the lunar surface, with a control station and you’re saying, slew left 50 degrees; rotate arm up 30 degrees, etc. You’re driving it command by command, checking each operation, making sure it’s okay before you go to the next one.

BLAIR: And that’s true with all components. If you had ATHLETE and CHARIOT out there, all of those could be tele-operated as well.

JOHN: Exactly.

CHRIS: First generation transformer.

BLAIR: Yeah, that’s right. If we could just go from Buick to this…

CHRIS: That’s right.

BLAIR: … then we’re gold.

CHRIS: You’re watching NASA EDGE.

BLAIR: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.

CHRIS: That’s pretty cool, John.

BLAIR: And if you do any remote testing…..

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