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Mechanism for Deploying a Long, Thin-Film Antenna From a Rover

The deployment mechanism consists of two rollers to automatically deploy the antenna at a rate proportional to the wheel speed.

Observations with radio telescopes address key problems in cosmology, astrobiology, heliophysics, and planetary science including the first light in the Universe (Cosmic Dawn), magnetic fields of extrasolar planets, particle acceleration mechanisms, and the lunar ionosphere. The Moon is a unique science platform because it allows access to radio frequencies that do not penetrate the Earth's ionosphere and because its far side is shielded from intense terrestrial emissions. A radio antenna can be realized by using polyimide film as a substrate, with a conducting substance deposited on it. Such an antenna can be rolled into a small volume for transport, then deployed by unrolling, and a robotic rover offers a natural means of unrolling a polyimide film-based antenna. An antenna deployment mechanism was developed that allows a thin film to be deposited onto a ground surface, in a controlled manner, using a minimally actuated rover.

The deployment mechanism consists of two rollers, one driven and one passive. The antenna film is wrapped around the driven roller. The passive roller is mounted on linear bearings that allow it to move radially with respect to the driven roller. Springs preload the passive roller against the driven roller, and prevent the tightly wrapped film from unspooling or “bird's nesting” on the driven spool. The antenna deployment mechanism is integrated on the minimally-actuated Axel rover. Axel is a two-wheeled rover platform with a trailing boom that is capable of traversing undulated terrain and overcoming obstacles of a wheel radius in height. It is operated by four motors: one that drives each wheel; a third that controls the rotation of the boom, which orients the body mounted sensors; and a fourth that controls the rover’s spool to drive the antenna roller. This low-mass axle-like rover houses its control and communication avionics inside its cylindrical body.

The Axel rover teleoperation software has an auto-spooling mode that allows a user to automatically deploy the thinfilm antenna at a rate proportional to the wheel speed as it drives the rover along its trajectory. The software allows Axel to deposit the film onto the ground to prevent or minimize relative motion between the film and the terrain to avoid the risk of scraping and antenna with the terrain.

This work was done by Joseph Lazio, Jaret B. Matthews, Issa A. Nesnas, and Dimitri Zarzhitsky of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology; and Jack C. Morrison for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-48887

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