Mass is a major issue for interplanetary missions as each additional kilogram influences the cost of the mission and it requires more fuel to be carried (the trajectory is very long). Additionally, the autonomy of rover vehicles is too much dependent on its weight for both propulsion and flexibility on their movements. AURORA programs have identified the possibilities to use lightweight and integrated electronics for moon and mars vehicles.

By analysing the critical areas and the trend in exploration missions, several needs emerge (both at system-design and at technological level) to face the requirements of future surface exploration projects. Mass containment, efficient volume allocation, improvement of thermal performance, simplification of the integration flow by reducing the number of single steps, increase of the power generation-storage capability without mass penalty are key factors to meet the more and more demanding scientific goals.

Conventional space subsystems are designed and manufactured separately, being integrated only during the final stages of the development. This requires containers for subsystems’ hardware, mechanical interfaces, panels, frames, bulky wire harnesses etc. which add considerable mass and volume. As all subsystems are generally secured to the structure, the multifunctional structure approach aims at merging these elements into the structure, so that the structure also carries out some of the subsystems typical functions, e.g. electrical energy storage. The main advantages are:

  • removal of the bolted mechanical interfaces and most of the subsystems’ containers
  • reduction of the satellite structure mass, as the strength of the parts of the subsystem embedded into the structure are exploited, and substitute purely structural parts
  • reduction of the overall satellite volume, as elements like battery packs or electronic harness can be built into the structure’s volume.

Multifunctional structures are more than a new material a design concept. Previous ESA and EC activities have initiated some studies and development for re-design space structures mainly for electronic housings and satellite platforms. These studies have been focused on the development of structures with integrated electronics manufactured with high thermal conductivity composite materials that provide an improved thermal and mechanical behaviour. This project intends to perform a step further in the developments.

In the “Multifunctional Structures” project (MULFUN), coordinated by TECNALIA and financed by the European Community under the Sixth Framework Programme, the development of lightweight – fully integrated advanced equipment for aircrafts and spacecrafts (avionics electronic housings), integrating the electrical, thermal and structural functions in a unique panel was carried out.

The technology used in the MULFUN project is very versatile and could be applied to any application where mass and volume are a concern, as in rovers. To give a step further in the application of the multifunctional technology, the approach proposed in ROV-E is to integrate not only thermal and structural functions within the carrier structures but also additional ones as EMI-EMC shielding, mobility, monitoring, power generation and power storage. Within the ROV-E project, the re-design of the following subsystems is envisaged: mobility, monitoring, internal structure, chassis, power and power storage.

Figure 1: ExoMars rover in current design stage.

ROV-E project is funded under FP7 Cooperation Specific Programme and addresses the objectives of activity 9.2 “Strengthening the foundations of Space science and technology”, Area 9.2.1.“Research to support space science and exploration. SPA.2009.2.1.04 Space transportation for space exploration.

Starting date: 1st of January 2011

Duration: 3 years

2011 ROV-E | Lightweight Technologies for Exploration Rovers
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