Astrobotic Project Focuses on Wireless Power Transfer on the Moon

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA will a project by Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh to develop wireless transmission for power systems whose mechanical connections would be prone to getting clogged with lunar dust.

The space agency selected the project for funding under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The phase I grant is worth up to $1250,000 over six months.

“There are several applications that necessitate proximity chargers in space. In relation to the Moon, these activities include supporting marsupial roving missions, enabling robotic systems that do not contain onboard nuclear or solar power generators, charging toolkits on crewed lunar terrain vehicles, and powering the heaters of critical devices to survive the lunar night,” Astrobotic said in its proposal summary.

Astrobotic has teamed with WiBotic of Seattle to begin developing the technology.

Astrobotic’s wireless transfer project was one of nine proposals dealing with lunar dust mitigation that NASA selected for SBIR Phase I funding as the space agency gears up to send astronauts back to the moon in the Artemis program.

Astrobotic’s proposal summary is below.

High Power Near-Field Wireless Transfer
for Dust Intensive Applications
Subtopic Title: Dust Tolerant Mechanisms

Astrobotic Technology, Inc.
Pittsburgh, PA

Principal Investigator
Michael Provenzano

Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) :
Begin: 1
End: 4

Technical Abstract

A great challenge with power management is the way power is transmitted to other devices. Traditional space systems operate through nuclear, solar, or tethered power mechanisms that require great complexity and process to qualify and operate. Tethered systems are hindered tremendously by mechanically mated components that are prone to regolith incursion and that require large robotically generated forces for interconnection. Furthermore, astronauts suffer from limited suit dexterity to manipulate and manage such systems.

Nuclear powered systems require intensive handling procedures, and in many cases, presidential authority to launch—greatly increasing the cost and schedule of such missions. Solar powered systems require continuous access to the Sun and must follow predicated operational plans to maximize sunlight exposure and limit system duty cycles, ultimately constraining system performance.

A wireless charging system would mitigate these challenges for standalone systems that don’t have the resources to generate power independently through the traditional methods listed above and would in many cases eliminate the need for some quick disconnect technologies used in static joints. Furthermore, a charging technology such as this could have great utility not only on the Moon, but also in critical space applications on Mars, in orbit, and beyond.

The proposing team of Astrobotic and WiBotic, are developing a charging solution that can satisfy these needs. The performance and specifications of the proposed wireless charging system are summarized as follows:

  • Dust tolerant design for 1 µm lunar regolith particles
  • Charging rate of 1-1.5 kW
  • Charging range of 0-4cm (horizontal spacing), +/-5cm (lateral misalignment), 0-70deg (angular misalignment)
  • Mass of 10kg
  • Compact base station size of 29 x 37 x 33 cm and power receiver size of 12 x 18 x 3 cm
  • Operational temperature range of -200C to +86C to enable operations at the lunar pole and equator

Potential NASA Applications

There are several applications that necessitate proximity chargers in space. In relation to the Moon, these activities include supporting marsupial roving missions, enabling robotic systems that do not contain onboard nuclear or solar power generators, charging toolkits on crewed lunar terrain vehicles, and powering the heaters of critical devices to survive the lunar night. Near-field wireless power transmitters are important tools to reduce regolith incursion in mechanically mated systems and static joints.

Potential Non-NASA Applications

Robotic systems are increasingly utilized in warehouses, energy/utility plants, construction sites, mines, and for last mile delivery applications. Underwater robotic systems enable ocean research for aquaculture, ocean mapping and maritime trade security inspections. All of these systems are battery powered and require recharging to maintain a high level of reliability and automation.

Duration: 6 months