Category: Automation and High-Throughput Technologies
There remain many unanswered scientific questions about the effect of zero-gravity (zero-g) on biological systems and how humans will handle long-term exposure to the space environment. The International Space Station (ISS) provides a unique opportunity to researchers to perform scientific experiments to answer these questions. Companies like NanoRacks have made the path to performing scientific experiments on the ISS easier. This increased number of experiments has, however, lead to the difficulty of scheduling ISS crew time to support these scientific experiments. There is, therefore, significant benefit in developing the capability to conduct scientific experiments on the ISS through automated or supervised teleoperations. An automated or supervised teleoperated system capable of experiment manipulation aboard the ISS should be compatible with the current experiment infrastructure, leverage existing terrestrial laboratory automation techniques, be capable of high-performance operation in space, have high system reliability, operate safely, and be extendable to future needs. To help address this need, Tethers Unlimited, Inc. (TUI) in collaboration with NanoRacks is developing the MANTIS ISS payload under a Phase II SBIR effort funded by NASA/JSC.
The goal of the MANTIS payload is to increase ISS utilization while reducing crew member burden to perform NanoRacks scientific experiments by enabling automated and/or supervised teleoperation of NanoRacks scientific experiments. The MANTIS payload leverages TUI’s existing KRAKEN robotic arm, which was previously developed in collaboration with the Naval Research Lab (NRL) for on-orbit servicing. The KRAKEN robotic arm is packaged with supporting infrastructure into a modular payload that can be mounted in an ISS ExpressRack to assist in performing scientific experiments. The MANTIS payload is being developed to perform multiple NanoRacks scientific experiments. NanoRacks has leveraged terrestrial experiment procedural standards and equipment when developing their infrastructure on the ISS. The MANTIS payload is following suit by leveraging terrestrial automated laboratory procedures and techniques.
In this paper, we will discuss the transition of common terrestrial laboratory automation techniques to the zero-g environment and how the MANTIS payload will leverage and overcome specific transition commonalities and difficulties. The use of hook-and-loop (i.e. Velcro) is an example of an issue that needs to be considered when laboratory automation is performed in zero-g. Terrestrial laboratory automation techniques can make use of gravity when manipulating samples. Manipulation of samples in zero-g, on the other hand, requires a method of positive capture when samples are not directly held by a robotic manipulator. Hook-and-loop is used quite extensively on the ISS as a method of positive capture. Placement and removal of samples from hook-and-loop presents specific challenges to robotic manipulators. This and other challenges will be discussed in detail in this paper.
Blaine Levedahl– Chief Scientist, Tethers Unlimited, Inc., Bothell, WA
Tethers Unlimited, Inc.
Dr. Blaine Levedahl has 14 years of experience developing modeling strategies and control systems for a myriad of different projects from rapid maneuvering control of UAVs and UUVs to path-planning and control of single and multiple robotic systems. At TUI, he currently serves as Chief Scientist.