Engineers at Space Applications are currently designing and building the LUVMI rover. This includes assembling a plastic prototype of the rover wheel.
To help keep the weight of the rover low, the wheels and other parts are being built using thin sheets of metal. Every wheel and a large section of the rover body will be designed based on a technology called thin metal sheet structure.
This technology is often used in the construction of aircraft but is not currently used in space, which makes this even more adventurous.
There are many advantages when using this technology to create lightweight structures, including reducing the manufacturing time and keeping costs down.
The main drawback of the thin metal sheet design is the number of components needed to achieve the required stiffness. For example, the wheel itself has 241 components in the CAD assembly model.
Guillaume at Space Applications says
‘For this reason we decided to start building a plastic wheel prototype early in the detail design process.’
3D printing technology is being used to prove that the designs work in the real world. These models will help everyone involved to better understand how any design changes might affect performance.
Building the prototype of the wheel early allows the engineers to continually improve the current design.
‘Having the prototype will also help us to better understand the effects of making small design improvements without having to swim through all the heavy computer simulation.’