Dec 30, 2010

First look at the WLS rover solar array

The first look at the WLS rover's solar array comes courtesy of our newest team member, John Walker, an engineer who's decided to chase his dream of working in the space industry.

Jump to the end to see the solar array pics

Six months ago, John was working throughout Canada as a consulting engineer, machine designer and project manager in the railroad, lumber and food production industries.

Now, after attending the International Space University (ISU) in Strasbourg, France, he he's been tasked with designing the rover's solar panels and modelling the optics of the camera system,under the supervision of Kazuya Yoshida at Tohoku University's Space Robotics lab.

Welcome to WLS, John. First up, why the move into the space industry?
As a child I wanted to go to space or at least help send people and things into space. After graduation in 2005, I was offered a "normal" job and did not pursue the space industry. I never stopped dreaming about it though, and when I was given a chance to attend the International Space University this past summer, I did not hesitate to go. It's an exciting time to move into the space industry; private companies are gaining new capabilities every day and making space more accesible.

How is working at WLS different from what you've done in the past?
It is fantastic working on something that I am passionate about, and I learn something new every from the people in different fields that I work with.

Are you just with us until the end of your internship? Where do you hope to end up with this change in career path?
I plan to continue working with WLS after my internship. Right now I am applying to positions in the industry as well as aerospace engineering graduate programs.

Are there any special considerations for solar panels that need to operate on the lunar surface?
Yes, there are several aspects of the design that need to be optimized, but they are in conflict with each other. Weight, power output, panel position and radiative cooling ability are parameters that "fight" each other. In addition, the parameters behave very differently at different times of the lunar day.

What about the camera system? What kind of problems do you have to overcome?
We are developing models to simulate the 360 degree panoramic image now. It looks like it will work very will without moving parts. The problem we are solving right now is the exact placement of the main camera and camera mirror. We are using the camera to see the rover itself as well as the landscape. There are trade-offs between visibility of these two things, and between the rover's field of vision and pixel density. Fortunately, we have freedom in the mirror design to give a large field of view, that is also high-resolution in key areas.

UPDATE from John
The camera height and solar panel size have been optimized, and the detailed design of the solar panel mechanism is underway so that prototype panels can be manufactured in spring.

Simulation of the 360 panorama view from the rover's camera, before processing

The solar panels in stowed configuration (for flight)

The solar panels in deployed configuration

Dec 14, 2010

Good for SpaceX, good for all

In a big year for space exploration, the first ever successful return of privately owned spacecraft from orbit has probably slipped unfairly under the mainstream media radar.

What with asteroid exploration, water on the Moon, habitable planets and solar storms to contend with, a three-hour orbit and subsequent spalshdown of an unmanned capsule might seem relatively ho-hum in 2010.

But for private space exploration companies, the success of SpaceX's Falcon 9 booster and launch and retrieval of the Dragon capsule last week could be just the spark the fledgling industry needs.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk has put his money where his mouth is, and he's got a lot of it, having also founded PayPal and Tesla Motors.

He started SpaceX with $100 million of it in 2002, recognising the ability of privateers to deliver low-cost solutions for space agencies, claiming most of the savings would come from cutting bureaucratic expenses.

Eight years and $2.4 billion in NASA contracts later, Musk is doubling his workforce every year to keep up with the demand.

Obviously, it helps if you've got a couple of billion under your belt to play with, but any success of any private organisation is good news for the industry as a whole.

If SpaceX continues its run of successes, confidence in privateers grows. With that comes increased opportunities for other privateers as space agencies around the world recognise the benefits of contracting out almost every aspect of their space programs.

Confidence at SpaceX is growing, too. "This has really been better than I expected," Musk said after the retrieval. "It's actually almost too good."

Universe Today reports they're so pleased with Dragon's success that they're keen to skip several demonstration flights of its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) vehicle and aim straight at the International Space Station. Their biggest NASA contract is a 12-mission one to carry supplies to the ISS as soon as the space shuttle program is wound up in April next year. NASA's reportedly a touch nervous about SpaceX's enthusiasm to get on with the job, but maybe they won't have a choice.

It's pure coincidence, but the irony of SpaceX's success at the same time the space shuttle Discovery was being pulled off the launch pad due to a string of failed attempts to fix cracks associated with its fuel tanks won't be lost on NASA and other government space agencies around the world watching on.

The success of SpaceX is exactly that - it's success. Musk's team continue to deliver while others fall by the wayside. The supply of contracts for the COTS program turned into something of a debacle, with several teams that won initial contracts - big contracts - losing them after failing to secure sufficient private backing.

In March, the other team left to share the COTS contract with SpaceX, Orbital, will launch its Cygnus spacecraft with the Taurus II rocket.

They might be the competition for anyone trying to crack the private space industry, but here's hoping they can replicate the achievements of Musk and Co. It's not like there's not enough space to go around out there.

Dec 8, 2010

Rover round-up - The $11.5m bean-bag wheels

What price a pair of lunar wheels? Try $US11.5m.

At least, that is if the rover has been ordered by the Canadian Space Agency and you been tasked to tackle the terrain of the Moon and Mars.

It's a hefty chunk of GLXP prizemoney, but this $US11.5m rover has no ordinary wheels, either.

McGill University mechanical engineering professor Peter Radziszewski and his team plan to base the wheels on a model they're calling the "i-ring".

It's a fabric wheel filled with particulate and it's caught the eye of the CSA for its ability to help rovers climb obstacles larger than their individual wheels.

It’s “like a (metal) bean-bag wheel,” Prof Radziszewski told the Star.

That also means it can travel at higher speeds than a rubber or pneumatic tyre, which bounce easily, or solid wheels, which can turn a rover over on impact.

The "bean-bag" wheels conform with shapes they come into contact with and have superior climbing ability, Prof Radziszewski said.

Dec 6, 2010

WLS lander model revealed soon

MORE volunteers on board this week at White Label Space, with Marco van Duijn, a stress engineer with international aerospace experts AOES Group BV, offering to help build a full-size mock-up of our GLXP lander.

Marco's an excellent example of the quality of volunteers attracted to WLS's effort, without which none of what the team is trying to achieve would be possible.

The model of the WLS lander will be finished within a few weeks. Stay tuned for more details and pics as soon as they're available.

Welcome to WLS, Marco. How did you come to join the team?
I know Andrew Barton since he joined AOES. I know of this project due to a presentation he gave about the Google Lunar X-Prize.

Where are you based?
I am based in AOES headquarters in Noordwijk (south of Holland).

What kind of work have you been involved in recently?
I have been involved in projects like Pal-V (FE analysis of the rotor blade connection), Fuselage Design Optimization (non-linear FE analysis, FP7-project), LAPCAT 2 (structural layout FE analysis, FP7-project) and Proba-V (thermo-elastic analysis).

What role will you play in building the mock-up?
There is no real role; we have a short consultation meeting with Aad Eggers/Andrew Barton about what to be done and what should be done in a later stage. After that we act as a team to physically build the mock-up, like drilling holes and attach panel to the structure with bolts and nuts.

What interests you most about the project?
I like to help people in general and besides that, this real physical work is a nice and welcome variation to my daily work which mainly consists of building and analysing FE models with help of computers.

When will you start building/complete the mock-up?
I have already started to build the mock-up and to my latest understanding it should be finished at around mid-December 2010 due to a planned photo shoot of the mock-up.

Why is it being built?
It is being built to show its geometry and sizing; we are then able to see how things are arranged on the inside and outside of the lunar lander.

How do you hope to stay involved with WLS after it's completed?
I hope to stay in touch with many other people involved in this project!

Dec 2, 2010

On rovers and a space-faring future

A key element in White Label Space's bid for the GLXP lies in the strength of its global relationships.

Nathan Britton's journey to becoming system engineer for the WLS rover has taken him from the University of Hawaii to the International Space University in France.

Currently, he's in Japan as a research student at Tohoku University Space Robotics Lab.

In this interview with WLS-Japan CEO Takeshi Hakamada, Nathan talks about the challenges he faces in balancing the needs of the rover and his hopes for a future in which space habitation is not only possible, but essential.

"It's pretty clear that the way we live our lives today is unsustainable," he tells Takeshi.

"It's going to require a huge shift in how civilisation works in order to become a space-faring civilisation but I think it's pretty obvious that in order for us to meet our potential as a species we need to push out and start utilising resources from the solar system - starting with the Moon."

Watch the full interview below