Astrobotic, a technology company in Pittsburgh, wins $5.8 million NASA Tipping Point contract to lead Bosch, WiBotic, the University of Washington, and the NASA Glenn Research Center (GRC) in developing a product line of lightweight proximity chargers. These ultrafast wireless chargers will enable critical lunar applications for both humans and robots.
Though prototypes for wireless charging have existed since 2011, this magnetic resonance-based power supply system is the first of its kind in space proximity charging. Comprised of a base station and power receiver, the system will be space-qualified and will eliminate common problems like planetary regolith (dust) interfering with mechanical charging connections.
“Generating, storing, and transmitting power is a critical infrastructure needed for all human and robotic activities in space,” says Cedric Corpa de la Fuente, Electrical Engineer for Planetary Mobility at Astrobotic. “Solar powered systems require continuous access to the Sun. A wireless charging system would mitigate challenges for standalone systems that don’t have the resources to generate power independently through the traditional methods.”
Astrobotic’s scalable, ultralight CubeRover – developed in collaboration with the NASA Kennedy Space Center – is the first space technology that will be integrated with the wireless charging system. Part of NASA’s Tipping Point contract will fund development of CubeRover’s intelligent autonomous navigation system, enabling highly precise navigation where GPS is not an option. This equips the CubeRover – and other planetary roving technologies – to find charging docks to power-up again and again, surviving the 14-day lunar night.
“These rovers need easy and reliable access to power in an environment that includes extremely abrasive dust and severe temperatures, making this a perfect application for WiBotic’s innovative non-contact proximity charging solutions,” says Dr. Ben Waters, CEO of Wibotic. “We’re looking forward to working with Astrobotic and the team to deliver flexible and durable charging stations that provide power to a range of manned and unmanned lunar vehicles.”
“All aspects of wireless communication, sensing, localization and charging, have to work optimally along with multi-sensor fusion to provide a robust solution,” said Dr. Vivek Jain, head of the Wireless Connectivity and Sensing group at Bosch Research in Silicon Valley.
Astrobotic will space qualify the entire system, test engineering and flight models, and lead integration of CubeRover and WiBotic’s multi-kilowatt, ultra-fast wireless charging system. Along with developing the software API, WiBotic will provide engineering, mechanical, and electrical design support. Bosch will engineer “smart” charge docking software for CubeRover, prototype materials, and assist with travel costs.
This wireless charging technology could have considerable utility not only on the Moon, but also in critical space applications on Mars, in orbit, and beyond. Future teams will be able to scale the wireless technology to diverse assets like lunar vehicles, power tools, flying systems, and more. The base station, power receiver, and CubeRover flight units will be delivered to NASA for infusion into a near-term lunar mission via the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program in 2023.