Motiv Space Systems
Pasadena, CA
https://motivss.com/

The Artemis program is NASA’s continuation of Apollo and will establish a robust human-robotic presence on and around the Moon. A big part of enabling the success of the Artemis program is In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) — “living off the land” by extracting what is necessary from the environment. According to NASA, advancing ISRU technologies could lead to future production of fuel, water, and/or oxygen from local materials, decreasing supply needs from Earth.

Many of the extra-planetary resources will be found at the poles. The polar regions of the Moon and Mars are where materials like water tend to accumulate. Water, for example, might be mined and recycled. So, in order to be successful at ISRU, NASA will need the ability to work in cold areas for long periods of time.

The Cold Operable Lunar Deployable Arm (COLDArm) is the first-of-its-kind robotic arm currently under development by Motiv Space Systems in partnership with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Prospecting, extraction, and mining initiatives are advancing capabilities to find and harness resources from lunar regolith. Chemical and thermal process developments may provide options to break down naturally occurring minerals and compounds found on the Moon and convert them to human consumables or even propellant.

Many of these processes will not be possible without the reach of COLDArm, which can withstand the extreme cold and enable the further exploration of the Moon’s regolith and resources for longer periods of time. The robotic arm will be equipped with a scoop and penetrometer to gather and inspect the regolith — that layer of loose rock that covers the harder bedrock of the Moon’s surface.

Any missions to extreme cold environments like the Moon and Mars’ North and South Poles have been short in duration because it gets so cold that batteries quickly run out of power and the mechanical interfaces can’t handle the huge temperature swings. This has limited the length and capabilities of previous lunar missions. COLDArm will extend the ability to explore extreme cold regions of space for longer periods of time with more activity.

During COLDArm’s first mission to the Moon, it will be thoroughly tested in order to determine if it performs well in extremely low temperatures — down to -180 °C. Not only will the COLDArm be capable of operating at such low temperatures but will do so without a heating source.

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Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the June, 2021 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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