This year continues to be an exciting one for Voyager’s Altius Space Machines! We previously shared the news that Altius is part of Maxar Technologies’ contract to aid in the design and delivery of two robotic arms to support the in-space assembly and servicing capabilities for the Defense Innovation Unit and Department of Defense. Part of this win allows Altius to supply its innovative technology which includes its Dust Tolerant Tool-changer Interface (DTTI) and electro-permanent magnet (EPM) technology to support DoD on-orbit servicing.
These sound like cool innovations, but what do they actually do?
EPMs, which enable a whole host of technologies, from dust-tolerant tool changers on lunar rovers to satellite servicing and in-space assembly, operate by using high current pulses to induce strong magnetic fields. Unlike common electro-magnets, EPMs remain magnetic when the power stops flowing. This, combined with the lack of exposed moving parts, makes EPMs an excellent choice for planetary science missions which otherwise require bulky tool holders (turrets) to prevent dust contamination.
Yet, as commercial companies begin to show interest in conducting lunar science under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Systems program, demand for effective, streamlined solutions led Altius to develop the DTTI, which offers a wide range of advantages over conventional (and expensive!) solutions such as the mechanical turrets currently in use on NASA’s Curiosity and Perseverance rovers.
Altius’ first-of-its-kind DTTI offers weight reduction over mechanical hardware, and the compact design also enables sensors and sampling tools to be inserted into much tighter locations. The omission of complex latching mechanisms is what allows for critical weight reduction. Moving parts also require a heavy dust shield and turret, and DTTI reduces the need for these added layers. With the DTTI, rovers and spacecraft can instead store their tools wherever is most convenient – just like a tool belt, and change them out whenever needed
Importantly, DTTI has low power requirements, allowing customers more freedom to focus on critical science in-space activities, rather than worrying about designing around bulky and inefficient mechanical turrets.
After completing a Phase II contract SBIR in December of 2021, which raised the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of the DTTI from 3 to 5, Altius was invited by NASA to participate in a Phase II sequential SBIR. We’re thrilled to sees NASA’s signal that this technology may be an important enabler of planetary science and on-orbit servicing! In addition, one of Voyager’s other operating companies, Pioneer Astronautics, is developing a dust repellent coating suited to the hostile lunar environment which can protect vital components like life support, sensors, and solar panels from lunar dust, providing excellent synergy with Altius’ Dust Tolerant Tool Interface.
The fundamental technology behind the DTTI is not just applicable to lunar and planetary science, but also right here on Earth. In messy industrial settings like mining, oil and gas, and food services, EPMs, Dust Tolerant Tool Interfaces, and dust repellant coating could enable easier and more efficient production processes.
These novel space technologies are just the beginning of our initiatives to better the future of humanity’s exploration in space and life on Earth.