Undergrad Research Project - Advanced Lunar Power Systems

Fall 2011

Nicholas Letwin
Red Whittaker
Project description

Carnegie Mellon University is the leading competitor in the Google Lunar X-Prize. The X-Prize team at the Field Robotics Center in the Robotics Institute is developing a rover and lander with the goal of landing on the Moon in 2014. The power systems of these craft are still in their infancy. The objective of this research is to begin designing and building flight ready hardware in support of this mission. The first goal of this research is to establish a lab to work on space electronics. Unfurnished workspace has been provided by the Robotics Institute. In order to conduct research, this facility will be outfitted with basic equipment, and procedures will be created to prevent damage to sensitive and expensive flight qualified hardware. A bench-top power system will be created from existing components on which all further development will be done. The setup of this lab will be advised by engineers from SpaceX and International Rectifier with extensive experience in the development of space rated components. The second goal of this research will to be implementing a torque control motor driver board to drive a brush-less DC motor. This requires interfacing with a commercial space-rated motor driver from International Rectifier, designing a printed circuit board to hold the driver and the necessary external components, as well as creating a way for an external computer to send motor commands. The third goal of this research will be the development of a maximum power point tracker. A maximum power point tracker ensures that available solar power is used as efficiently as possible by optimizing the electrical load on the solar panels. The core of a maximum power point tracker is a switching DC/DC converter. This research will focus on adapting a flight proven DC/DC converter from International Rectifier for use in a maximum power point tracker. By using hardware from a veteran space electronics company over a custom design, it is possible to side-step all the pitfalls that can accompany power supply and space electronics development and piggy back on many years of painstaking research. Using an existing DC/DC converter requires modifying the converter's existing feedback loop to accept input from a custom controller, which will be implemented on an FPGA during this project. The results of this research are critical to the success of Carnegie Mellon's lunar mission. Hardware developed will also be used in the pursuit of several NASA research and development contracts which could net the program several million dollars.

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