Novel Muscle-like actuators for space robotics that can be manufactured off-planet.

R. Alvarez
Elysium Robotics,
United States

Keywords: mining, robotics, automation

Summary:

Elysium has developed novel muscle-like actuators, that enable high-dexterity robotic systems for space asset maintenance and assembly. These actuators, comprising silicone (PDMS) microfiber bundles, leverage electrostatics for tension production. Their form-factor is ideal for robotics, offering strength, speed, low weight, minimal power consumption, and negligible heat generation. Remarkably, the silicone's raw materials can be mined from Lunar and Martian regolith, requiring only power for production. This capability facilitates in-situ actuator production, dramatically reducing the need to transport materials from Earth and enabling the creation of an extensive robotic fleet for space exploration and settlement. The ambition of sending astronauts to Mars, despite its significant cost, is nearing feasibility through both public and private ventures. To leverage these monumental investments effectively, it's crucial to establish infrastructure that supports permanent settlement in a cost-efficient manner. Beyond material recovery, establishing value-added manufacturing on Mars is essential for long-term settlement. This proposal explores the potential for producing linear actuators on Mars, critical for mechanized technology and manufacturing processes. The synergy between human astronauts and robots is emphasized, combining human adaptability in identifying valuable ore samples with robots' capability for systematic exploration. This collaboration enhances the efficiency of space exploration and supports broader public endorsement for space programs. However, realizing this vision requires adapting existing technologies to the unique demands of space production, achieving the necessary volumetric efficiency. The proposed manufacturing process includes an ore feed system. Surface soil will be sifted for particle size control, a process that can be automated for scalability. The plasma furnace, or HET mining device (HMD), diverges from traditional electric propulsion designs, featuring an elongated aspect ratio to accommodate the dissociation and full ionization of ore fines. This process, requiring higher voltage (~100-200V), enables the separation and removal of potential slag constituents, offering a cleaner alternative to traditional smelting. In summary, by harnessing in-situ resources and innovative manufacturing processes, this proposal outlines a sustainable strategy for space exploration and settlement. The development of muscle-like actuators from locally sourced materials not only mitigates the logistical challenges of space missions but also paves the way for the autonomous construction and maintenance of space infrastructure, ensuring the long-term viability of human presence on Mars and beyond.