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IET Satcom 2018

Astrobotic announces selection of two new NASA research contracts

(7 August 2018 - Astrobotic) Astrobotic Technology has announced $250,000 in new contract awards through NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs.

These two contracts, which were awarded to the company’s Future Missions and Technology (FM&T) department, will help the company develop novel technologies and strategies for the exploration of space and planetary surfaces.

Through an SBIR contract, “Software Defined Reliability for Low Cost Digital Signal Processors on Small Spacecraft” FM&T will address the needs of the growing space computing market for the next wave of robotic spaceflight customers with Astrobotic’s proprietary “Software Defined Reliability” (ASDR) technology. “This research will allow Astrobotic to develop advanced robotics capabilities for its Peregrine lunar lander, such as precision landing and hazard avoidance,” said Kerry Snyder, Astrobotic Senior Research Engineer and Principal Investigator. “If proven, these capabilities will allow us to deploy new computing architectures into a broad range of space applications quickly, reliably, and at low cost, with the potential to significantly increase the autonomy and performance of a range of spacecraft.”

A key challenge of high performance computing in space is radiation, which can introduce errors into electronics and software. The conventional solution is to design computers that are “hardened,” to this radiation, but such custom and low volume production computing is expensive and introduces significant development delays. Astrobotic’s technology seeks to address this issue by moving the “hardening” into software with efficient distributed consensus algorithms to enable flexible error detection and correction on off-the-shelf processors with minimal overhead.

One advantage of a software-based solution is that it applies to specialized processors such as digital signal processors, graphics processing units, and AI co-processors. With software-defined reliability, ASDR maintains a low cost and supports small spacecraft like the Astrobotic Peregrine Lander.

The STTR contract “Mission Coordination and Co-Localization for Planetary Rover Teams,” is in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). The objective of the 13-month contract is to develop strategies to enable accurate localization of multiple planetary exploration rovers without requiring high fidelity sensing or onboard high-performance computing. The work builds on Principal Investigator Red Whittaker’s Planetary Robotics Laboratory at CMU, which has decades of experience investigating robotic sensing and localization techniques, cooperation strategies, and route planning.

“The developed techniques will enable autonomous planetary rover teams by coupling efficient relative co-localization and coordinated path planning. These capabilities will open up new types of robotic missions and enhance the fidelity of science and exploration on the Moon, Mars, and beyond,” said Astrobotic Senior Research Scientist, Dr. Andrew Horchler.

Cooperative rovers can explore the surface of planets with higher efficiency and lower mission risk, perform novel and precise resource and science surveys, and gather and share resources and information. In order to work together more efficiently and effectively, rovers must understand their location relative to their peers and the terrain, which is challenging in the absence of global positioning systems.

The proposed work will research two key techniques to improve cooperative planetary robotic missions. First, the team will develop novel methods for co-localizing multiple rovers using image-based relative observations. Second, the team will study complementary path planning algorithms that reduce localization uncertainty and improve positioning accuracy.

This research, which will be conducted at both Astrobotic and CMU, builds on both groups’ long-standing leadership in real-time navigation, sensor fusion, and localization for planetary exploration rovers and drones.

About Astrobotic

Astrobotic Technology, Inc. is a lunar logistics company that delivers payloads to the Moon for companies, governments, universities, non-profits, and individuals. The company’s spacecraft accommodates multiple customer payloads on a single flight, offering flexibility at an industry-defining low price of $1.2 million per kilogram. Astrobotic is an official partner with NASA through the Lunar CATALYST program, has 26 prior and ongoing NASA contracts, a commercial partnership with Airbus DS, a corporate sponsorship with DHL, 12 deals for its first mission to the Moon, and 130 customer payloads in the pipeline for upcoming missions. Astrobotic was founded in 2007 and is headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA.

Astrobotic’s Future Missions and Technology (FM&T) Department is researching and developing the technology for the next generation of space robotics. From surface and subsurface robotics platforms for planetary exploration, to GPS-denied visual inertial navigation, to mission planning software, we deliver cutting edge technology with the mission of making space accessible to the world. The Astrobotic team has completed more than 25 government and industry R&D contracts to date.