NASA recently announced the continuation of a two-phase $750K STTR Research Award on Free-Flying Unmanned Robotic Spacecraft for Asteroid Resource Prospecting and Characterization. ERAU Faculties Dr. Hever Moncayo as PI and Dr. Richard Prazenica as Co-PI, and the Research Engineer Dr. Kris Zacny from HoneyBee Robotics Company as Co-PI are leading the effort. Dr. Sergey Drakunov from the ERAU Physical Sciences Department is also collaborating on this research effort.
In this project, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) and Honeybee Robotics (HBR) are developing an integrated autonomous free-flyer robotic spacecraft system to support the exploration and subsequent resource utilization of asteroids as well as other planetary bodies and moons. The proposed spacecraft will address the first step towards In Situ Resource Utilization from Near Earth Object bodies; namely it will prospect it with sample acquisition devices and characterize the NEO for ISRU potential. The research team will focus on an innovative resource prospecting mission concept based on autonomous small marsupial free-flyer prospector spacecraft. Such technologies are currently being developed at ERAU. The spacecraft will utilize unique technologies such as MicroDrills and Pneumatic Samplers previously developed under other SBIR projects by Honeybee Robotics. In particular, the project focuses on flight control and reconfiguration for guidance under extreme environments, vision-aided navigation approaches, and sampling systems design, testing and evaluation. The successful completion of this research effort is anticipated to provide a theoretical and experimental framework to investigate the capabilities of a marsupial-based robotic system to explore and extract samples from terrains that would be inaccessible to traditional rover-type vehicles and where traditional flight guidance and navigation sensors, such as GPS receivers and magnetometers, are not functional.