Rarely does a week pass without some concern about space debris, whether it's falling to Earth or threatening the International Space Station. Plenty of private companies and government agencies have proposed solutions for this problem, from giant space nets to ground-based lasers that would push debris out of orbit. Here's one we have not seen before: A sticky robot arm that works like a mechanical tractor beam. It could be used to reach out and grab space debris of any shape or size — and for other purposes, like servicing the ISS.
Altius Space Machines, based in Louisville, Colo., is developing a robotic arm dubbed the "Sticky Boom," which consists of an extendable arm outfitted with static gripper pads. The gripper can stick to any surface using electrostatic adhesion, because of a variation in electrical charges between the boom and the object. The electroadhesive gripper is soft and compliant, allowing it to adapt to any object's geometry. "You don't even have to know what the thing is made of or what it's shaped like before you go stick to it," Altius president Jonathan Goff tells Technology Review.
Altius took the boom on a parabolic flight earlier this year so they could test it in microgravity. Watch below as Goff and Mike Judson frantically test their creation amid the other passengers' squeals. Altius won a $25,000 first place award at a NASA small business competition in July, Tech Review notes.
The company says it is developing the Sticky Boom for use as a mechanical tractor beam, perhaps on the ISS to grip incoming cargo ships or even space garbage threatening the station. It would enable ISS to harbor any type of spacecraft, not just ones with specially designed ISS-compatible docking ports, the company says. It could also conceivably grab objects at varying velocities, because the extendable boom can match their speeds more readily than a traditional mounted robotic arm, the company says.
[via Technology Review]
I remember the good old days when a lasso was still a good idea.
If its space junk and you have no real interest in its value anymore, just wrap a line around it and give it a good squeeze; this would not do?
Lumber jacks wrap a long belt around a tree all the time. I am sure there has to be an easier, less over engineered solution to snage and grap a lost piece of space junk.
That test looked terrible, it could barely hold on to a round ball in microgravity, how's it supposed to grab space debris or parts and pieces which are almost certainly NOT going to be perfectly round and shaped just right for this grabber?
I have to agree with you completely watching this video. And what is further strange, this is the first time in my life I feel disjointed something did not suck. I was hoping completely for a sucky event. I guess it was nothing to get ecstatic about after all! ;)
It's a proof of concept test, what are you expecting? I was expecting a proof of the concept being discussed, which is exactly what I saw.
I paused and thought about your words a while. Here is my reply. Being Productive is always a combination of being efficient and effective, ok. Now let’s go back to the goal of what we are trying to achieve. Consider you, me in space jetting around in our space suits grabbing space junk here and there; maybe we even have a short term space craft to enhance our movements for longer journey. But, our goal is to find and grab the pieces that are JUNK and could cause problems for other things in space or consider BIG and falling to earth.
So in my every day task of grabbing space junk, my goal is not to be gentle, but to be effective and efficient. I do not need a gentle multimillion device to grasp a piece of junk I no longer put value on. No, I need to grab and force it not to hit a 100 million dollar satellite that is useful in space currently or I need it guide to fall from space harmlessly towards the ocean and harm anything on earth.
No, I need to grab and force it not to hit a 100 million dollar satellite that is useful in space currently or I need it guide to fall from space harmlessly towards the ocean and NOT harm anything on earth.
this is a proof of concept prototype, i would expect it to be more powerful, larger, and more refined if it is ever deployed: do you really expect it to work perfect the first time? cheers
Granted, the guys doing the test were pretty inept, but even when one guy fed the object directly to the device it seemed to barely be able to hold it. Some big, rubbery friction grasping fingers or a net that could wrap around and close back on itself using electromagnets, for example, would seem far more effective.
The whole premise of this device is that electrostatic attraction can potentially be induced on just about ANY surface, regardless of what it is made of. However, in almost every case, we will have an idea what it is made of ahead of time. Therefore we can use things like magnets when some kind of ferrous material might be available, or something more like a whip or lariet when that doesn't work. It's called the right tool for the right job. One tool that claims to do ALL jobs usually doesn't do them all equally well.
Well, by the looks of the device and the metallic type skin ball, I would assume they played with this much on the ground lab. So they hopped on a free falling anti gravity producing plane to make a demo video for themselves and us POPSCI observers.
I wonder how much this device would cost and have to be in size to grab 1/2 ton or more size satellite in space and pull it about with static electricity.
I guess the best question is defining the junk, its size and shape and weight. Yes, I have read often there is much in space; but I really do not know of its exact characteristics and what we should be concerned about. If I had a better idea of the junk, then I suppose I could better comment on a tool for grabbing it,
or commenting on this one in the article.
I wonder if anybody on the plane rub the little silver ball and see if it would stick to their head\hair?
I have to say that video was rather unimpressive. Those tourists where so annoying. They should have fed the experiment to a university who could have flown it free of charge.
This device reminds me of those mechanical crane arms in "prize machines" where you pay 50 cents and you manuever the arm to pick up a prize. But invariably the claw is not strong enough to actually pick up anything, and you lose your money without getting the stuffed animal toy. Apparently that's what's happening here with NASA too. I wonder if there is coin slot on the side of this device?
you all seem to be a bit over critical of these people and NASA, NASA has only given them $25,000 dollars, I'm sure NASA won't put a gripping arm in space that can't grip, cheers
$300 worth of electronic materials more or less for the " Sticky Boom Electroadhesive". The rest of thes $25,000 will be their profit. I really like to see the projects that did not make it. ;)
i guess you figure there is no labor or other overhead? this has real potential; having watched the shuttles and the ISS use arms to grasp various items, they all had hardware that firmly coupled them together; this tech would work when that is not available and the item being grasped is in orbit (stable compared to the grasper); how about showing a little vision to see the potential of this tech, cheers
NASA really enjoys you energy and belief in the Sticky Boom Electroadhesive and they have given you the Green Light to go!
Your assign purpose today from NASA is to be given the opportunity to be an astronaut and NASA will bring the space shuttle out of mothballs for this single mission. To fly about and grasp, push, pull, tag, static cling if you will and put as much predetermine space junk out of orbit, into a fierier death into the ocean.
No you can use a rope or some kind of grasping device or maybe you use the Sticky Boom Electroadhesive, the choice is yours. But the limitation is you must pay for this tool and its development and most of all it has to work. Now you have your goal, being effective is an absolute must and being efficient, the cost is important too. Well, you’re spending your own money. Now, what will you choose?
The earth is dependent upon you to remove as much potential dangerous space junk as possible in this one mission and you do not want to waist all your money in the development of this tool.
It’s easy to dream big and say, yea let’s build it, when the other guy has to pay for it. But in this situation and all of NASA cut backs in dollars, they are wondering how this will all pan out, if you, an individual has to pay for it with your own money. In this situation, NASA has to be careful with its money and needs the most practical solution.
Good luck! Peace! Out!
Except one problem: it can't handle electronics for the same reason we can't. Static electricity. If you want to replace the RAM in a computer, for example, you have to take special care to avoid static. To accomplish this, we typically wear anti-static wristbands while working on electronics. I get the feeling that those won't work all too well on this grasper, as opposed to us.