NASA SBIR 2004 Solicitation


PROPOSAL NUMBER: 04 X5.01-8176
SUBTOPIC TITLE: Mobile Surface Systems
PROPOSAL TITLE: Lightweight Gearbox Technology

SMALL BUSINESS CONCERN (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Starsys Research Corp
4909 Nautilus Court North
Boulder, CO 80301-3691

PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR/PROJECT MANAGER (Name, E-mail, Mail Address, City/State/Zip, Phone)
Jim Sprunck
4909 Nautilus Ct. N.
Boulder, CO 80301-3691

To date, the majority of the gearboxes used on the rovers have been based on very conventional materials, process and designs. This has primarily been a result of the fast paced schedules associated with rover development. With little time for recovery, these programs are extremely risk adverse and the idea of developing new technology on the program is absolutely impractical. As there is no rover planned for the 2007 there is a longer than normal dwell between rover programs. The hope is to capitalize on this time to advance the technology used on the common gearboxes employed on the rover. This will allow new technology to be introduced into the gearbox designs.
The plan for reducing the gearbox mass relies on a three pronged approach. First, design innovations above and beyond AGMA standards will be evaluated for incorporation into the basic planetary gearbox design. Second, advanced materials and processes will be evaluated for use in gears and planet bearings. And lastly, the cost implications of the advanced technology will be compiled to insure the correct balance is maintained between weight reduction and cost expense.

Lightweight gearbox technology has direct commercial applicability to all NASA spaceflight missions due to the cost/pound ratio of current launch capabilities. This issue is amplified when applied to deep space/interplanetary missions (probes, landers, and rovers) where the propulsion mass fraction is increased.

Starsys, the primary supplier of gearboxes for the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission, could have realized a mass savings in excess of 5 lbm per MER. If the proposed gearbox technology were sufficiently mature for that mission. This would have allowed for improved/increased science payloads (the primary objective of the mission) within the same rover mass budget.

Lightweight gearbox technology will be immediately applicable to all spaceflight applications (DoD, DoE, ESA, JAXA, Commercial, etc.), because of the current cost per each pound of mass launched. Starsys has a lengthy, successful track record of this type of commercialization.

This technology, once proven, can also be applied to mobile terrestrial devices such as aircraft, missiles, naval, sub-sea, and automobiles, where mass reductions are directly associated with increased performance and improved fuel efficiency.