Honeybee Robotics Selected for 2 SBIR Phase II Awards

NASA has selected two proposals from Honeybee Robotics for negotiation on Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II awards worth up to $750,000 apiece over two years.

The titles of the two selected projects are:

  • The Stinger: A Geotechnical Sensing Package for Robotic Scouting on a Small Planetary Rover; and,
  • Strut Attachment System for In-Space Robotic Assembly.

According to the proposal summary, the Stinger is “a percussive shear vane penetrometer capable of measuring near-surface and subsurface soil properties to a depth of 50 cm or greater.”

The system can be used for surface rovers and in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) missions on the moon, Mars and Venus. “Stinger could be adapted for Astronaut deployment as well. NASA ISRU and excavation mission would also need to determine soil properties,” the company said in its application.

The Strut Attachment System (SAS)  “provides a common electromechanical connection architecture for robotic on-orbit structures assembly,” Honeybee said. “The SAS enables the creation of networked space frame structures with a strut/node architecture; enable payload docking to those structures for power and data transfer; and enable the creation of reusable, serviceable, and upgradable vehicle systems in support of lower cost space exploration.”

Summaries of the two proposals follow.

Proposal Title: The Stinger: A Geotechnical Sensing Package
for Robotic Scouting on a Small Planetary Rover
Subtitle Topic: Robotic Systems – Mobility, Manipulation, and Human-System Interaction

Small Business Concern
Honeybee Robotics, Ltd.
Brooklyn, NY

Principal Investigator/Project Manager
Kris Zacny

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 4
End: 6

Technical Abstract

The first lunar soft lander was Surveyor 1, in 1966. It had three tasks, one of which was to determine lunar surface bearing strength. Knowing the strength of the lunar surface was the single most important parameter – this essentially dictated whether landing on the Moon with significant mass like that of the Lunar Module was in fact feasible.

During the Apollo program, astronauts used a Self-Recording Penetrometer (SRP) to measure geotechnical properties of lunar soil. One of the instruments of the 1970 and 1976 Soviet Lunokhold rovers included a shear vane geotechnical tool. Since 1976, there have been no geotechnical instruments deployed on any planetary body. Our intent is to provide a geotechnical tool that will allow us to begin exploration again.

The Apollo penetrometer approach was excellent for greater depths, while the Soviet approach worked well for the near-surface. We combine the two approaches into what we call the Stinger, a percussive shear vane penetrometer capable of measuring near-surface and subsurface soil properties to a depth of 50 cm or greater.

The objectives of Phase I were to design and build a simplified breadboard Stinger GeoTool and test it in lunar and Martian soil simulants to determine its applicability for robotic and human missions. The results of Phase I show not only accuracy and precision in determining soil properties, but also flawless execution of the breadboard design. This paves the way for the Phase II effort.

The primary objective of the proposed Phase II effort is to develop a compact impact shear vane penetrometer – the Stinger – up to TRL5/6 to determine soil physical properties near the surface and down to 50 cm depth.

In conjunction with the instrument development, a soil mechanics model will be formulated based on laboratory tests with the instruments, in soil simulants, and in vacuum conditions.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

Surface rover or ISRU missions: Mars2020 rover, Venus Mobile Explorer (VME), Lunar Resource Prospector. In addition, the tool could be deployed on landers such as Venus In Situ Explorer, Lunar Geophysical Network etc. Stinger could be adapted for Astronaut deployment as well. NASA ISRU and excavation mission would also need to determine soil properties.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

The tool can be used by DoD to perform soil strength assessment before landing planes and establishing camps (we are already commercializing a prior SBIR tool with DoD). Market also includes agriculture, road construction, mining (e.g. stability of tailings), and soil remediation.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • Actuators & Motors
  • Contact/Mechanical
  • Hardware-in-the-Loop Testing
  • Models & Simulations (see also Testing & Evaluation)
  • Pressure & Vacuum Systems
  • Project Management
  • Prototyping
  • Simulation & Modeling
  • Structures
  • Tribology

Proposal Title: Strut Attachment System for In-Space Robotic Assembly
Subtitle Topic: In-Space Structural Assembly

Small Business Concern
Honeybee Robotics, Ltd.
Brooklyn, NY

Principal Investigator/Project Manager

Jason Herman

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
Begin: 3
End: 4

Technical Abstract

The size of space systems is currently limited to payload envelopes of existing launch vehicles. Due to this and the customized nature of satellites, existing space systems are very costly to stand up. Nor are they designed for repair, upgrade, or reuse to amortize the cost over multiple missions. As missions get further from low-earth orbit (LEO), the dangers of human extra-vehicular activity (EVA) for manual on-orbit assembly or repair increases, making robotic assembly of large structures very desirable.

Honeybee Robotics (Honeybee) proposes to continue development of the Strut Attachment System (SAS) that provides a common electromechanical connection architecture for robotic on-orbit structures assembly. The SAS enables the creation of networked space frame structures with a strut/node architecture; enable payload docking to those structures for power and data transfer; and enable the creation of reusable, serviceable, and upgradable vehicle systems in support of lower cost space exploration.

The proposed Phase 2 work plan is to develop the Strut Attachment System to TRL 4 with a robotic assembly demonstration of a networked structure showing power and data network connectivity. The SAS will consist of the Strut Attachment Mechanism, Strut Receptacle, Strut, and Node.

Phase 2 will include furthering the development of the Strut Attachment Mechanism and Strut Receptacle, as well as beginning development of the Strut and embedded systems that enable a self-healing power and communications network across an assembled structure.

The Phase 1 project resulted in a Strut Attachment Mechanism and Strut Receptacle at TRL 3 at the end of Phase 1 and Phase 2 plans will bring the SAS (Strut Attachment Mechanism, Strut Receptacle, Strut, and embedded systems) to TRL 4 at the end of Phase 2.

Potential NASA Commercial Applications

The SAS will be an enabling technology for future exploration missions by providing a core technology for in-space robotic assembly of:

– Extended operation space exploration vehicles
– Planetary exploration surface habitats
– In-space transportation hubs.

Future exploration missions either in Earth orbit or to other planets will require large space vehicles. The optimal architecture for in-space operations may not look like a traditional space vehicle like the Space Shuttle or Apollo-era vehicles, and will be too large to assemble on the ground and launch into space directly in-space assembly will be necessary. In fact, the International Space Station is a perfect example of such a space asset.

Combining the enabling capabilities of robotically assembled, networked space frame structures, with other in-space robotic technologies being developed such as the in-space refueling work going on at NASA Goddard and the Phoenix robotic servicer/tender going on at DARPA, leads to the capability to assembled large structures on-orbit, connect multiple modules to a common structure, and create very large space systems that are not possible with today’s methodology.

Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications

There exist multiple defense and commercial applications for the SAS including:

– Large deployable aperture arrays to address the exponential increase in global mobile data consumption
– GEO hosted payload platform to provide less expensive access to space for science, defense, and commercial customers.

DARPA is interested in the development of a persistent platform in GEO that would provide common resources (e.g. power, communications, attitude control) to a large number of hosted payloads. Scientists, commercial entities, or defense customers many times desire an on-orbit capability, but the required investment to develop and launch the asset simply outweigh the benefits or do not mesh with budgetary constraints. What if on the payload needed to be developed and there was inexpensive access to GEO via commercial payload delivery systems such as DARPA’s Payload Orbital Delivery (POD) architecture.

A GEO hosted payload platform could provide significant value to numerous payloads. This GEO platform is likely to be a networked space frame structure and the proposed SAS is key to realizing that architecture. This concept has significant scientific, defense, and commercial value both for payload providers (customers) as well as the GEO host provider from a revenue perspective.

Technology Taxonomy Mapping

  • Spacecraft Design, Construction, Testing, & Performance (see also Engineering; Testing & Evaluation)
  • Structures

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