Light Bender robot will aid the Artemis missions

Company Maxar will produce robots, called Light Bender, to reflect sunlight in the dark areas of the Moon during the Artemis missions
Light Bender will use robots to provide solar light to the solar panels in the dark areas of the Moon during the Artemis missions. Credit: Maxar

Light Bender robots from the space technology company Maxar will use mirrors to reflect sunlight towards equipment operating in the shadow during the Artemis lunar missions. NASA has set the goal of landing astronauts near the south pole of the Moon by 2025 as part of the agency’s program.

Energy is crucial on the Moon.

The south pole of the Moon is rich in resources such as water ice. However, it is an environment with long periods of little or no light. These conditions make energy production difficult, leaving few options for recharging batteries and maintaining life support.

This project aims to address this by using robotic mirrors. The Light Bender will automatically reflect sunlight towards essential equipment that Artemis astronauts could carry with them in permanently shaded regions on the lunar surface.

“Part of what we’re doing is conceptually simple, reflecting sunlight onto a solar panel located in the darkness,” said Sean Dougherty, CRA of Maxar and head of Light Bender. “The complexity is doing it without human involvement. We are leveraging investments to understand how NASA can use robots to assemble and deploy reflectors that keep solar light focused on a solar panel operating in the shade”.

How Light Bender will work

Light Bender works by lifting two 10-meter mirrors on a 20-meter telescopic mast. One mirror autonomously tracks the Sun and reflects the light onto the second mirror, which in turn reflects those rays towards the solar panels.

The project is a collaboration between Maxar and NASA’s Langley Research Center, and its first terrestrial demonstration will take place in 2025. The company won the contract in May 2023 under NASA’s Collaboration Opportunity Program. NASA’s team is responsible for the structural design of Light Bender.

Maxar, on the other hand, is taking the lead in robotics, an area for which the company has excellent credentials. The company built the robotic arm of the Perseverance rover and has extensive experience in satellite production and orbital assembly technology. Given the size of Light Bender’s mirrors, Maxar also intends to assemble them in space.

Role of robotics

Dougherty states that autonomous robotics will play a crucial role in creating the infrastructure needed for long-term lunar exploration. “We currently don’t have construction crews on the Moon or Mars, so robots will have to intervene. By using these technologies to build infrastructures, robotics will increase human safety and reduce the number of people needed to complete missions”.

Artemis 3 will be the first crewed mission of the program on the lunar surface and will target the south pole of the Moon. The mission is expected to reach the Moon no earlier than 2025. Meanwhile, Artemis 2 is planned to send a crew of four people around the Moon and return in November 2024.

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