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NASA is testing a COLDarm: a robotic arm "insensitive" to lunar frost

NASA is testing a COLDarm: a robotic arm “insensitive” to lunar frost

Lunar exploration, as well as future interplanetary missions, will require technologies capable of operating at extremely low temperatures. With the goal of future Artemis missions to the south pole of the Moon, NASA is now developing a spacecraft robotic arm It is expressly designed to operate in temperatures as low as -173°C COLDarm (cold-operable lunar deployable arm). Once successfully tested on the Moon, this robotic arm will also be usable on future missions to Mars.

It is an arm about two meters long equipped with two cameras capable of mapping the lunar surface in 3D. On board will be the same optical sensor (inside a 13-megapixel color camera) used on the Ingenuity helicopter on the mission. Mars sample return. At the end of the robotic arm, there will be several small scientific instruments including a special titanium scoop, 3D printed, for collecting samples of lunar soil. As in the case of the robotic arm on the Mars Insight lander, Coldarm will be able to launch the instruments into the soil of the satellite or planet being explored.

According to JPL engineers, COLDarm could operate on a lander being shipped to a frozen ocean world such as Jupiter’s moon Europa. In such a situation, the lack of radiators to heat the arm will also bring an added advantage. In fact, it can collect volatiles without affecting the temperature of those samples. This is in addition to Potential savings of about 2 hours of time and up to 30% of your daily energy budget A mission like the Mars Perseverance mission.

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COLDarm during a testing phase in which soil sample collection was simulated using a 3D-printed titanium scoop. credits. NASA/JPL-Caltech

Why is COLDarm so special?

First, the arm is used Metal Glass gears. It is a class of non-crystalline solids, including amorphous metals. In this way, the structure is two times more resistant than ceramics and resistant to steel, but has great resilience properties.

In addition to, This material does not need to be lubricated or heated. In addition to a series of sensors capable of providing feedback to the robotic arm during every movement in the field, COLDarm will also use a processor. It is very similar to the one now used in smartphones and aviation software, and is called F Prime.

As for creativity, COLDarm will be able to operate completely independentlyand perform tasks and collect images and data without input from JPL engineers on the ground. Last December, COLDarm was tested by JPL engineers collecting similar material from lunar regolith.

The test proved successful, so COLDarm is now in an advanced stage of testing where conditions during interplanetary missions are simulated at very low temperatures. We hope that the actual launch of this robotic arm on a mission is planned towards the end of the decade.

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