Spidernaut, Orbital Construction Robot

Take a look at Spidernaut, a robot designed for use in constructing orbiting structures - in orbit, of course.

The upcoming generation of space science platforms and vehicles are too large and too fragile to launch and deploy as self-contained payloads. Constructing and maintaining these structures on orbit presents unique challenges which may be overcome by Extra-Vehicular Robotics (EVR) using gentler methods of locomotion and manipulation. New EVR robot archetypes are needed to fill this role.

The biomimicry of the design makes use of the multipoint stance of the arachnids; as many as seven legs are stationary during a step, spreading loads more evenly over delicate space structures.


(Spidernaut orbital construction robot)

Such a system could carry large payloads, transporting structural materials across an extensive solar array or mirrors across a telescope without significant structural loading. This archetype could also exploit hybrid forms of locomotion such as routing and deploying a "web" of space tethers to cross structural spans where even light forces are unacceptable. A spider-like robot prototype, Spidernaut, under development at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC), forms the basis for a series of new arachnid class EVR robots.

Fans of Charles Sheffield will no doubt recall the spider robot from his 1979 novel The Web Between the Worlds:

The two great ovoid bodies were hanging near the surface of the asteroid, about a hundred meters apart. The eight thin metallic legs were pointed downwards, balanced delicately a few centimeters clear of the surface. Between them, probing deep into the interior of the asteroid, was set the long proboscis. As Rob watched, the great, faceted eyes turned towards him. The Spiders were aware of his presence. Somewhere deep in their organic components lurked a hint of consciousness.

Corrie had been fascinated by them from the first moment she saw one. "Why eight legs?" she had asked.

Rob had shrugged. "It extrudes material like a spider. How many legs wouldi you have given it?

Also, I should mention the Sheem Spider Robots from The Witches of Karres, a 1966 novel by James Schmitz, and the Spider Tripod Robots from Arthur C. Clarke's classic 1972 novel Rendezvous with Rama.

From Spidernaut (NASA) via IEEE Spectrum (and a hat tip to Winchell Chung aka @Nyrath).

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