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

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