The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) robotic arm is ten times more massive than any Mars robotic arm before it, yet with similar accuracy and repeatability positioning requirements. In order to assess and validate these requirements, a higher-fidelity model and calibration processes were needed.

Kinematic calibration of robotic arms is a common and necessary process to ensure good positioning performance. Most methodologies assume a rigid arm, high-accuracy data collection, and some kind of optimization of kinematic parameters. A new detailed kinematic and deflection model of the MSL robotic arm was formulated in the design phase and used to update the initial positioning and orientation accuracy and repeatability requirements. This model included a higher-fidelity link stiffness matrix representation, as well as a link level thermal expansion model. In addition, it included an actuator backlash model.

Analytical results highlighted the sensitivity of the arm accuracy to its joint initialization methodology. Because of this, a new technique for initializing the arm joint encoders through hardstop calibration was developed. This involved selecting arm configurations to use in Earth-based hardstop calibration that had corresponding configurations on Mars with the same joint torque to ensure repeatability in the different gravity environment. The process used to collect calibration data for the arm included the use of multiple weight stand-in turrets with enough metrology targets to reconstruct the full six-degree-of-freedom location of the rover and tool frames. The follow-on data processing of the metrology data utilized a standard differential formulation and linear parameter optimization technique.

This work was done by Curtis L. Collins and Matthew L. Robinson of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For more information, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. NPO-49013