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Automation Technology:
Activities in the field of space technology

The Automation Technology research group has been involved in a variety of space-related projects, mostly coordinated by the European Space Agency (ESA). The research areas include robotic mobility on planetary terrain, fuel-cell technologies and planetary drilling. In addition the laboratory is involved in international educational master program in the field of space technology.

MROSA-2 mobile drilling system

In 1999 the laboratory participated in a Finnish consortium that developed for ESA a mobile drilling platform known as MROSA-2. The mission scenario for the MRosa-2 system would be to land on Mars and carry out many sampling trips and collect several dozens of samples around the lander. The device would conduct multiple trips within 30 m distance, drill 2 metres into soil, acquire 10 samples and return them to the lander. The Automation Technology lab provided the tracked roving system and integrated it with the drilling system. Later in 2003 we participated in a update project of MROSA-2, ordered by ESA, to modify and update the system.

Miranda drilling-jig

In 2003 a group of laboratory personnel and post-graduate students participated in an ESA-student contest. The team designed and produced a drilling test rig that was also used to perform drilling tests. The main focus of student work was designing, building and testing a setup for drilling, sampling, and analysing of a simulated Martian regolith. The tests and the results later were an integral part of a doctoral research.

The Thistle

Biologically inspired solutions for robotic surface mobility

In 1993 ESA launched a new program called ARIADNA that was aimed to develop contacts between the Agency and the academic world. We replied on the first invitation to tender and won a small project to develop new locomotion methods on Mars. Under the Ariadna program the Thistle concept was developed, combining wind propulsion familiar from the NASA-Tumbleweed rover and motorized unbalanced mass from the Rollo ball-shaped robot. For more information, see ARIADNA Study 03/6201 and final report pdf.

Dynamic Model of The Thistle
Arcs modeled as beam-elements.
Thistle deployment and roll (1.5M .avi) avi

Another dynamic Model of The Thistle
Arcs modeled as stiff but adding compliance on ground contact.
Low_res Animation (4.5M .avi) avi

Yet another dynamic Model of The Thistle
Arcs modeled as stiff but having flexible mounting and compliance on ground contact.
Low_res Animation (4M .avi) avi

Short simulation run
Here the model presented above is controlled in closed loop. Controller is realized with Simulink and simulation runs in co-simulation with Adams and Simulink. Forward motion is controlled to give constant drive motor velocity, steering is a cascade controller having Yaw-command in outer loop and pendulum steering angle in the inner loop. The innermost control parameters are motor torque as input to model and motor velocity as output from model to controller. Motor electrical properties are modeled in Simulink while mechanical inertia and gear ratio are present in Adams-model. All controllers are very rough and preliminary ones, -the very first that have been demonstrated with this simulator.
Low_res Animation (1.2M .avi (DIVX)) avi

See also other ball simulations in Gimball_simulator

Biological fuel cell

Within the Ariadna program in 2004 the laboratory also replied to the second invitation to tender. Again a project was won. This time the study considers the use of fuel-cell technology as a part of the waste-management system onboard a manned space-craft.

Astronaut balance

Down-hole Hammering Mechanism

In 2006-2007 the laboratory started with the Italian space company Galileo Avionica a project for ESA to develop and demonstrate a small-scale hammering system (DHM) to be placed inside a drill string of a future planetary drilling system. The Automation Technology laboratory conducted a technology survey and performed preliminary drilling tests with an updated version of the previously mentioned Miranda drilling system. According to the test results the laboratory designed a couple of conceptual designs for the hammering mechanism and after ESA approval also made the detailed design of the system. The hammering mechanism was partly manufactured and fully assembled in the laboratory. Testing of the mechanism takes place in premises of Galileo Avionica in Milan.

Down-hole Hammering Mechanism


Joint European Master in Space Science and Technology

In 2004 the laboratory was invited to join in a consortium to provide a new international educational program “ERASMUS MUNDUS - Joint European Master in Space Science and Technology”. The application from the consortium was evaluated in a very demanding process by the Erasmus Mundus evaluation board, the proposed program was deemed of good quality and it was accepted. The program is run with a co-operation of six european universities:

  • Cranfield University, UK
  • Czech Technical University, Czech Republic
  • Helsinki University of Technology, Finland
  • Julius-Maximilians Universität Würzburg, Germany
  • Université Paul Sabatier, France
  • Luleå University of Technology, Sweden (Coordinator)

The aim of the program is to combine the great diversity of space expertise at six European universities to a common platform of competence in a research oriented environment. The program provides a two-year research oriented Master Course and Double Master’s Degrees from two European Countries. The first year is common for all the European and third country students and it takes place in Germany and in Sweden. The location for the next year is applied by the student according to his own preferences.

TKK gives education in topics related to robotics and automation which may be applied also in space applications. Every year we receive around 8 Space Master students who first study several classes in robotics for one semester and on the second semester they carry out research on a given topic and write their Master's Thesis.

The laboratory invites industry to present interesting Thesis research topics for the Space Master students. Proposals can be directed to prof. Aarne Halme or researcher Mr. Tomi Ylikorpi.