New Robotic Gripping Techniques Designed for Zero-G Space Mining:
Back in 2007, the European Space Agency launched the spacecraft Rosetta, a mission to a comet that will arrive in 2014. Rosetta includes a lander that will use a harpoon to stick itself to the surface of the comet, which (while pretty cool) isn’t necessarily an ideal solution, since harpoons aren’t removable.
Ideally, you want some system that can reliably anchor a robot to an uneven surface while simultaneously providing enough downforce in microgravity to allow for sample collection, and this is where the microspines come in.
JPL’s microspine anchors are capable of quickly attaching and detaching from a variety of surface types using an actuator with just one degree of freedom. The anchor provides enough force (on surfaces ranging from vertical to inverted) for a percussion drill operating though the anchor to take core samples, and it’s robust enough to survive over a hundred anchoring sequences with a structure that’s designed to be space-durable.