NASA contracts wireless charging system for lunar robots
A $5.8m project is developing a wireless charging system that can be used on the Moon based on technology from WiBotic.The contract with prime contractor Astrobotic is part of NASA’s ‘Tipping Point’ program to overcome challenges associated with charging robots on the lunar surface.
“For Wibotic this is an exciting time. We have had robots charging up using our technology in the air, underwater and now here we are in outer space. The reason why we are so excited is NASA has really stepped up their efforts in working with technology companies and startups,” said Ben Waters, CEO of WiBotic told eeNews Europe.
“NASA wants lunar night survival so they can test and explore as it can be as cold as 200ºF and can last for up to 14 days without sun so solar panels are not viable. Surviving regolith [Moon dust] is challenging as it can be finer than dust and works its way into connectors and its conductive so it wreaks havoc and causes robots to fail,” he said.
“Wireless charging is a great for this as you don’t have to be perfectly aligned, and that works as there’s a lot of uneven surfaces,” he said.
Using wireless charging on Astrobotic’s CubeRover is the first project, along with a charging system on the lander that will also provide a 4G basestation. But it could also be used for many other battery powered tools and robots, says Waters.
WiBotic is adapting its coils and components for the Moon.
“Mass is critically important. On the technical front we will be enhancing our existing systems for the environment, thermal capabilities and doing away with any active cooling such as fans, then there’s the radiation levels – certain components such as microcontrollers need to be radiation tolerant.”
Bosch will be working on the sensors and AI for navigation for the CubeRover while the University of Washington has expertise in regolith.
“The concept is, for now, that the Rover will house the on board charger, the receiver. The lunar lander will house the transmitter. This has batteries and we will be working on the system integration and is aware of its capacity so we can dynamically adjust the charging rate,” said Waters.
“By the end of this we will be testing the system in NASA chambers that simulates regolith, the temperature extremes and the radiation as well as the shock and vibration requirements to survive the launch,” he said. “Our longer term vision is to pioneer a lunar wireless power grid to supply energy for a wide range of both manned and unmanned vehicles, irrespective of their individual battery types, voltages or required power levels. This is only the first step in creating a common infrastructure of wireless charging stations and Fleet Energy management software to be deployed across the surface of the moon.”
“Bringing wireless power technology to the surface of the Moon and beyond is a game changer in the way space robotics systems have traditionally interacted,” says Cedric Corpa de la Fuente, Electrical Engineer for Planetary Mobility at Astrobotic. “For instance, by removing dependencies to solar charging, a new wide range of opportunities for smaller and lighter systems becomes available for missions that were not within reach before – such as survival of lunar night missions. Just like Astrobotic’s CubeRover, WiBotic’s wireless technology platform is scalable and supports a wide range of power needs. This makes the end product very appealing not only for companies but also for all new space electrical systems and infrastructures.”