Shooting for the Moon: Ansys Sponsors Astrobotic Technology
November 12, 2009

Shooting for the Moon: Ansys Sponsors Astrobotic Technology

Southpointe, Pa. - ANSYS Inc., maker of simulation software and technologies designed to optimize product development processes, has become an official sponsor of Astrobotic Technology Inc.’s Tranquility Trek mission. The mission involves developing a rocket-launched robot as part of the Google Lunar X PRIZE competition. As sponsor, ANSYS is providing its multiphysics engineering simulation software in the development of the robot, lander, and payload adapter as the company races to become the first privately funded team to reach the Moon.
Through the use of tools from ANSYS, Astrobotic Technology is simulating the effectiveness of machinery and materials performance under extreme fluctuations in lunar conditions -- all to be conducted prior to sending the robot to the Moon. The project will pave the way for human exploration and eventual tapping of lunar resources for export to Earth.

The Google Lunar X PRIZE is a $30 million competition to encourage privately funded teams to send a robot to the Moon, travel 500 meters, and transmit video, images and data back to the Earth. U.S.-based Astrobotic is one of 21 teams from around the world participating in the competition. The company, which has identified a 2011 launch date, already is field-testing prototype Moon robots.

“This is a race after all, so we are leveraging engineering simulation software from ANSYS to keep moving at warp speed,” says David Gump, president of Astrobotic Technology Inc. “We are applying the software to find the lowest-cost, lightest-weight designs for our robots and the deep-space transfer stages that will deliver them from Earth’s orbit to the Moon. ANSYS technology enables us to examine alternative structures and materials to rapidly find the most effective combinations via simulation, before we build physical prototypes.” For example, Astrobotic Technology will use tools from ANSYS to design the composite structures of the landing stage and then model the impact forces it will experience when it touches down on the Moon.

Surviving the Moon’s environment, which exhibits drastic temperature changes, is proving to be a complex challenge. “The Moon is a harsh world to explore. At noon, for instance, our robots will be baked at 244 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the latest readings from NASA. Our third prototype, created by our partners at Carnegie Mellon University utilizing ANSYS technology, demonstrates how to beat the heat with an innovative asymmetrical shape. The software’s thermal analysis capabilities help us determine the optimal design to withstand the Moon’s elements,” Gump explains.

“Astrobotic Technology’s choice of ANSYS software for Simulation Driven Product Development£ will serve it well during its race to the Moon,” says Jim Cashman, president and CEO, ANSYS, Inc. “This may turn out to be the ultimate in virtual research, since it is impossible to physically reproduce the lunar environment then run prototype experiments in out-of-this-world conditions. The entire mission holds the opportunity for the world to gain insight into new discoveries yet to be found.”

Once the robot reaches the Moon, Astrobotic Technology intends for it to visit Apollo 11’s landing site along the equator and to study the lunar environment’s effects on materials that mission left behind.