Space Exploration Tech
Astrobotic technologies is a Pittsburgh-based, space exploration technologies startup lead by robotics-legend Red Whitaker and spun off the Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute. I joined them initially during the last semester of my time as a masters student, and continued my involvement after graduation. I joined the team as the manufacturing lead engineer, helping the team bring the Polaris lightweight excavation rover from concept refinement to completion, testing and demonstration.
The Polaris lightweight excavation rover is a fully functional Earth demonstration prototype of a lunar excavator with outstanding capabilities. The purpose of this prototype was to demonstrate that it is possible for a very light vehicle to excavate large amounts of dirt without compromising the performance.
The project involved at least a dozen of people, including top researchers and scientists, PhD students, E&E engineers, mechanical engineers and system engineers. My tasks were mainly focused on the fabrication and assembly of the several aluminum and carbon fiber parts and sub-assemblies, but also contributed with tolerance analysis, DFM and refining of the design over design reviews. I lead the manufacturing efforts to enable the completion of the project within time and budget. I built not only the parts but also the molds, fixtures and jigs required for their manufacture, processing and assembly. I also helped mentor a group of fresh students and interns to help them bring their sub-projects to completion.
Watch here a time-lapse video of the assembly of Polaris (real time aprox 3 months).
I was able to further develop my prototyping and fabrication skills with both manual and CNC machines, refreshed my welding skills, and got hands on experience on fabrication processes new to me such as 3D printing. But particularly I had a great experience learning about the design and fabrication of carbon fiber parts and assemblies.
A period of extensive and comprehensive performance testing followed the completion of Polaris, during which we tested every sub assembly to all operational conditions and the complete rover at different capacities and use scenarios. This in-depth controlled testing helped us optimize the software and find issues with some components that were quickly iterated and re-fabricated.
A demonstration period followed in which the rover was pushed to its max capabilities and in which we also demonstrated that a well-thought excavating vehicle can dig a very large amount (literally a ton) of dirt regardless of the weight.
You can learn more about Astrobotic at: http://www.astrobotic.com