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Pasadena-Based Builder of Mechanisms for Space Wins Contract From U.S. Defense Innovation Unit

Published on Wednesday, March 9, 2022 | 5:53 am
Pasadena-based Motiv Space Systems is building a first-in-kind robotic arm that will be built to survive the extreme cold of the Moon’s South Pole in partnership with JPL, announced this week it has also won a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense. [Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech]

Motiv Space Systems, a Pasadena company that designs and builds robotic arms, motor controllers, and mechanisms for space agencies, has been awarded a contract under the Modularity for Space Systems Program (M4SS) of the Defense Innovation Unit, a Department of Defense organization that helps the U.S. military make faster use of emerging commercial technologies.

Together with sub-contractor Blue Origin, Motiv Space Systems will supply its advanced space robotics technology to enable a new age where space agencies can repair, augment or modify deployed spacecraft to make them more resilient and modular.

At the heart of that technology is ModuLink, which has two robotic arms, sensors, and modular interfaces, and can be installed on various types of spacecraft, making robotic space missions available to a broad user base. The technology will enable both the U.S. Government and the commercial space industry to robotically retrieve and deliver payload modules, repair or replace aging or failed components, refuel satellites, remove space debris, reposition satellites, and assemble spacecraft in space.

A Motiv Space Systems statement on Tuesday said the company and Blue Origin plan to use a version of the Robot Operating System, called Space ROS, to serve as the ModuLink software architecture which Blue Origin is developing in collaboration with NASA.

“ModuLink enables an exciting new modular approach to spacecraft, their capabilities, and on-orbit repair through advanced robotics,” Chris Thayer, Motiv CEO, said. “The ModuLink system is designed to be a ‘bolt-on’ robotics enhancement for spacecraft which, with the use of Space ROS, will lead a new era of robotics in space.”

ModuLink will enable a user to select any number of elements from its ecosystem and apply them to their spacecraft – turning that platform into a customized robotic spacecraft.

“Modular control software simplifies and speeds up development and verification of flight system robotics solutions,” Brent Sherwood, SVP of Blue Origin’s Advanced Development Programs, said. “We’re pleased to be collaborating with Motiv to drive this field forward.”

The ModuLink system is founded on Motiv’s xLink robotic manipulation system, developed to address the need for affordable space robotics. xLink’s first flight is scheduled to be on NASA’s OSAM-2 mission where it will be used for manufacturing and assembly tasks. xLink was born out of Motiv’s successful Mars 2020 Perseverance robotic arm and the RoboMantis modular ground robotics system.

“In addition to enabling spacecraft modularity, ModuLink is itself a modular robotic system,” Thayer added. “This means we can easily reconfigure the system, such as the reach or number of robotic arms, to meet the mission needs.”

The ModuLink project is planned as a three-year development cycle concluding in a flight demonstration.

Motiv Space Systems was founded in 2014 by three experienced robotics engineers: Chris Thayer, Brett Lindenfeld and Tom McCarthy. The company has obtained and successfully executed a number of NASA contracts, including most recently the robotic arm on the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover.

Motiv launched the groundbreaking xLink Robotic Arm System in 2020.

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