Before I jump into a post about what we’ve been up-to today with our Sprint #2, I wanted to briefly thank some of the companies that have been helping us, both on this sprint and on our previous one.
First off, here’s a video of our the Sticky Boom demonstrator prototype we built a month and a half ago for our first sprint:
We put this prototype together in only 7 working days (about 110hrs for me, and about 95 for Mike and Steve) out in the Bay Area back in March after getting invited by NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist to present our technology at a NASA Technology Day in Washington DC. We got the firm invite on February 28th, and the demo day was March 15th. They asked if we had anything we could demonstrate, and our answer was “of course we will.” As it is though, we wouldn’t have had a prayer if it wasn’t for the help of several companies, which I’d now like to call out:
The first company we’d like to thank is SRI International. They’re the inventors and patent-holders for the Electrostatic Adhesion technology that lies at the heart of our Sticky Boom system, and they’re our core partners on developing and marketing Sticky Boom for space rendezvous and capture applications. SRI built us the Electroadhesive pads we used for the demo, have helped us out a lot with the technology maturation and marketing efforts, and Harsha (one of the inventors of Electroadhesion) even stayed up with us till 2:30am the night the video above was taken putting together and debugging the prototype. We’ll talk more about our collaboration in a future blog post, but they’ve been awesome to work with.
Stellar Exploration Inc and The Planetary Society
While I had studied a lot of approaches for doing extensible spacecraft booms, when we got invited to put together the demo unit for the NASA Tech Day, we only had about two weeks to put something together. During some of my previous visits to Stellar Exploration’s facilities in San Luis Obispo, they had shown me the LightSail-1 prototype they were working on for The Planetary Society. This is a pretty cool 3U cubesat mission that can deploy a 32 cubic meter solar sail from a tiny ~3kg satellite that fits into a 10x10x30cm space. The boom deployer for this satellite deploys four 4m long TRAC (Triangular Rollable and Coilable) booms out of a deployer that with its motor and gearbox fits comfortably within a single unit cubesat. Tomas talked with Lou Friedman of The Planetary Society and go permission to loan us their first proof-of-concept boom deployer with a single 2m long TRAC boom installed. Chris Biddy and several of the other engineers at Stellar put in a decent chunk of time helping me get that prototype unit put back together and ready to use for our Sticky Boom demonstrator. Thanks again to the Stellar and TPS teams for letting us borrow some of their amazingly cool hardware for our project.
CD International, Dave Weinshenker, and Bojo Inc
When I was preparing to do the first sprint, we really needed to be located out in the Bay Area, since the boom deployer we were getting was coming from San Luis Obispo, and the EA pads were coming from SRI up in Menlo Park. I had talked with Steve Traugott of CD International (the guy who helped “incubate” Masten Space Systems when it first started up in Silicon Valley in 2004) about crashing at his place one of the nights. When I told him what we were up to, he asked if he could help, and offered to let us use some of his shop space. Steve’s company does custom coaxial cables for research, industry, aerospace, and industrial applications. When I got out there, I found out that he had also done a “horsetrade” with Bojo Inc (another former nextdoor neighbor in Santa Clara that makes some nifty non-scratching plastic tools for automotive and aerospace applications) for us to use their Epilog laser cutter. He also pinged Dave Weinshenker (an old friend from the Experimental Rocket Propulsion Society that helped us out a ton in Masten’s early days, and has still been involved with a lot of the goings on at the Friends of Amateur Rocketry site near Mojave), and got him to pitch in a Saturday. Steve ended up putting in over 80hrs of help that week, and Dave put in quite a bit too. Steve helped Mike and I design the sticky boom structure, Dave helped us find LiPo batteries and properly setup the power electronics, and Steve helped us figure out most of the electronics, the motor controllers, and just a ton of other stuff. It was a lot of fun working with him on a fast-paced project like that.
When we got the boom deployer from Stellar, it came with a built-in Brushless DC Motor for extending/retracting the boom. We were having a hard time sourcing a motor controller on short notice (we needed it there in two days or less), so the BLDC manufacturer suggested we talk with All Motion. They have a line of servomotor controllers, and we were able to pick one for the motor that came with the Boom Deployer. When we ran into trouble figuring out how to program the jog-mode we needed for the demo unit, they let us drop in with our hardware and their board, and helped us troubleshoot and program the thing. When we decided to splice-in a much beefier brush DC servomotor, they helped us figure out how to reprogram the unit to do what we wanted to.
Wayne Nosala was the machinist who did most of the rocket engine hardware for us while I was back at Masten. When this Sticky Boom project came around, I asked him if he could do a quick turnaround on our first generation “Rocker Bogie” gripper prototype. We were able to take the mechanism from CAD models in Colorado to parts arriving with Mike Judson in Utah from Wayne’s shop in Mojave in around 30 hours. I think part of why I haven’t done much with Rapid Prototyping machines yet is because we’ve had Wayne to help us. Everyone needs a Wayne. He’s just plain amazing.
Last, but not least, was Henry Cate, a good friend from the Bay Area Moon Society days. He provided Mike Judson and I a good place to crash while we were there in San Jose during the sprint, and didn’t ask questions when we regularly showed up at 1, 2, and 3am on some of those nights. Henry’s been a great friend over the years, and I felt I’d be remiss to not mention his contribution to the project.