These NASA-Funded Space Robots Will Use Weapons Operated From Earth To Capture Objects In Orbit

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PickNik Robotics recently announced they won two contracts: a SpaceWERX contract to work on robotics for the United States Space Force, a NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I contract, and a Colorado Advanced Industries Accelerator (AIA) grant for space robotics.

PickNik Robotics’ contract with SpaceWERX, the innovation arm of the United States Space Force and part of the Air Force Research Laboratory, entails the company assisting in developing enhanced control for capturing space assets in orbit.

PickNik will collaborate with the Nuclear and Applied Robotics Group at the University of Texas at Austin to use robotic arms to capture and manipulate objects in orbit for In-space Servicing, Assembly, and Manufacturing (ISAM) missions.

PickNik’s MoveIt Space software, which combines motion planning and control software with an easy-to-use user interface, will also be used to help Earth-based operators coordinate autonomous robots in intravehicle and extravehicle activity applications.

NASA’s contract with the company will advance work on supervised autonomy that the company has already been doing with NASA. The goal of NASA and PickNik is to enable operators to give high-level instructions to a robot for tasks such as opening station module doors, cabinets, and drawers, as well as interacting with objects such as vales, buttons, and switches.

With its SBIR Phase I contract, PickNik will create machine-learning models to assist robots in understanding and carrying out these high-level commands. Previously, the company was awarded an SBIR Phase II contract to develop advanced planning capabilities for robots operating in microgravity environments, such as the International Space Station (ISS).

The Colorado Office of Economic and International Trade awarded the company a Colorado AIA grant for its work in space robotics.

“It is vitally important to enhance safety and lower the cost of spaceflight through robotics, and these three wins will enable us to support that endeavor,” Dr. Mark Moll, the director of research at PickNik Robotics, said.

“Along with our MoveIt Space and MoveIt Studio software, we have more than 40 people at PickNik Robotics, with 363 years of combined robotics experience, who are ready to help organizations of all kinds embrace the massive opportunity in space.”

“These three wins provide additional validation of our work in space robotics, a major focus area for our company,” Dr. Dave Coleman, CEO of PickNik Robotics, said.

“We look forward to working with Space Force, NASA, and other organizations in the space economy to help them navigate the complexity and potential of robotics, specifically robotic arms, in that realm.”

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