Fundamental to many of NASA’s in-space transportation missions is the capture and handling of various objects and vehicles in various orbits for servicing, debris disposal, sample retrieval and assembly without the benefit of sufficient grapple fixtures and docking ports. To perform similar material handling tasks on earth, pincher grippers, suction grippers or magnetic chucks are used, but are unable to reliably grip aluminum and composite spacecraft, Insulation, radiators, solar arrays, or extra-terrestrial objects in the vacuum of outer space without dedicated handles in the right places. The electronic Flexible Electrostatic Technologies for space Capture & Handling (FETCH) will enable reliable and compliant gripping (soft dock) of practically any object in various orbits or surfaces without dedicated mechanical features, very low impact capture, and built-in proximity sensing without any conventional actuators. Originally developed to handle semiconductor and glass wafers during vacuum chamber processing without contamination, the normal rigid wafer handling chucks are replaced with thin metal foil segments laminated in flexible insulation driven by COTS solid state high voltage power supplies. The flexible electrostatic gripper pads can be adapted to various space applications with different sizes, shapes, and foil electrode layouts even with openings through the gripper pads for addition of guidance sensors or injection of permanent adhesives. With gripping forces estimated between 0.5 and 2.5 pounds per square inch or 70-300 lb./sq. ft. of surface contact, the FETCH can turn-on and turn-off rapidly and repeatedly to enable sample handling, soft docking, in-space assembly, precision relocation, and surface translation for accurate anchoring.
This effort will test the proximity sensing and gripping force of the first generation FETCH gripper pads in an instrumented vacuum test chamber with assorted sample materials, shapes, support structures, and grip angles. Additional testing will demonstrate capture/soft docking and handling of different sizes, masses, and configurations beyond a stationary nano-sat mock-up on MSFC’s Flat Floor. The FETCH grippers utilize phased high voltages on the gripper electrodes to induce attractive electro-static charges in the surface of the object being handled whether it is metal, composite, MLI, glass, or even rock.
This new capability to sense proximity, flexibly align to, and attract and cleanly grip and capture \\ transverse practically any object or shape in space without any pre-designed physical features or added sensors or actuators will enable or enhance many of MSFC’s strategic emphasis areas in space transportation, and space systems such as:
Flex ES grippers on booms will enableassemble thermal shields, radiators, or arrays with modules to form the vehicle stacks for advanced in-space propulsion technologies and transportation missions (using Cryogenics, nuclear, sails, tethers, etc.) or to support propulsion test beds and demonstrations and affordable innovative transportation technologies for beyond Earth Orbit exploration such Mars missions.
Flex ES grippers on booms will enable ISS berthing without the ISS Robot Arm while station-keeping at a safe distance to enable commercial cargo vehicles with minimum crew support
Flexible ES grippers will enable non-contaminating inspection robots to crawl outside and inside modules and engines using only power with no rails, handles, and without the fuel and operational complexity and safety issues of free-flying robots to support Advanced in-space propulsion systems, Propulsion test beds and demos, innovative BEO exploration, next gen habitation module outfitting and low-cost ISS payloads
An ES gripper based rover can attach to and transverse any slope, any angle under low or no gravity in vacuum without anchors, creases, propulsion, contamination is adaptable as “gravity boots” to an EVA walking cradle to enable and enhance Exploration objectives
Flexible ES Grippers on booms will capture and handle various objects from a safe distance with minimal use of thrusters to retrieve extra-terrestrial samples, sample canisters from landers or on-orbit to enable and enhance Exploration objectives, and to capture and handle satellites that require servicing to return to operations or to be re-located to a safe orbit to manage and enhance Space Environments
|Organizations Performing Work||Role||Type||Location|
|Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC)||Lead Organization||NASA Center||Huntsville, Alabama|