Startling developments are going on in deep space automation, especially with the latest space probe missions where OSIRIS-REx stands out as the top flag bearer for the cause.

OSIRIS-REx is an impressive space project that works entirely autonomously. It is well known for being the first American mission sent into space to collect asteroid samples. The mission took off in 2020 and should return to earth by 2023. Another intriguing pinnacle of the project is the cutting-edge scientific equipment used, which includes these main, high-performance assets:

  1. Camera Suite (PolyCam, MapCam, SamCam) (OCAMS OSIRIS-REx)
  2. Laser Altimeter (OLA OSIRIS-REx)
  3. Visible and IR Spectrometer (OVIRS OSIRIS-REx)
  4. Thermal Emission Spectrometer (OTES OSIRIS-REx)
  5. Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrometer (REXIS OSIRIS-REx)
  6. Touch-And-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism (TAGSAM).

As an automation specialist, I’m beyond fascinated by the design achievement of the TAGSAM. An 11 foot (3.35 meter) long electrically actuated robotic arm with three articulated joints and simple verification and safe storage features. The sample acquisition is carried forward using a remarkable touch-and-go application protocol.  

The autonomous TAGSAM displays are similar to the robotic arms found in manufacturing facilities. With one major difference, that is. 

Due to the inaccessibility of the TAGSAM to be let go for repair, the probe must be maintenance-free while working in extreme conditions for several years during the mission. To get rid of maintenance, NASA landed with a crowning design that came to be a mechanical device of the highest industrial quality. The stakes for them couldn’t have been higher. The failure of a component could have compromised the entire mission.

Unlike the TAGSAM, the robotic arms used by the manufacturing industry here on earth can undergo maintenance as per requirement. The time frame is normally dependent on the completion of the working hours indicated by the manufacturer or due to malfunction. 

I think we can learn from NASA’s design to approach the reduction of maintenance frequency in manufacturing robotic arms. By studying their technology and bringing it to legacy equipment, we can better understand the tools necessary to elevate performance. The positives can be really impactful to the operations. For instance, manufacturers could be able to:

  • Skip unplanned downtime, 
  • Drive up productivity,
  • Cut short production delays,
  • Order components for delivery ahead, and
  • Plan quick repairs before the line stops running. 

But that’s just what I think! I encourage you to do your own analysis! For sure, you’ll come up with great stuff that can be applied to our field.

Do not forget that if you have any comments or need advice on the subject, you can always reach out to Verdusco Consulting! It will be our pleasure to assist you. Cheers!