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Masten to deliver science to moon’s south pole

XL-1 lander
Artwork shows Masten Space Systems’ XL-1 lander on the moon. (Masten Space Systems Illustration)

NASA has selected California-based Masten Space Systems to deliver eight science payloads to the moon’s south pole in 2022 on its XL-1 lunar lander.

Seattle-based Olis Robotics has a role in getting one of those payloads, a robotic arm, ready to fly.

The $75.9 million contract was awarded to Masten under the terms of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, or CLPS — which provides opportunities for the space agency to order lunar delivery services from commercial providers, in a way that’s similar to ordering a rideshare trip on earthly streets. In 2018, Masten was one of the first delivery providers that NASA put on its CLPS list.

Masten hasn’t yet flown anything in space, but it’s been working on its lander technology for more than a decade in partnership with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Air Force Research Laboratory, among others. Back in 2009, Masten won more than a million dollars in the NASA-funded Lunar Lander Challenge.

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Olis will lend a hand with Maxar’s lunar robotic arm

Maxar robotic arm
An artist’s conception shows the SAMPLR robotic arm working on the moon. (Maxar Technologies Illustration)

Seattle-based Olis Robotics says it’s been selected by Maxar Technologies to provide software that will prepare operators on Earth to control a robotic arm on the moon.

The software will be used in connection with a robotic-arm experiment known as SAMPLR (Sample Acquisition, Morphology Filtering and Probing of Lunar Regolith).

SAMPLR is one of a dozen payloads chosen by NASA to fly on commercial lunar landers in support of the space agency’s Artemis program to send astronauts to the moon by 2024.

The robotic arm is a flight spare left over from NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. Both of those rovers landed on the Red Planet back in 2004, and the mission was brought to a close this February.

SAMPLR will be attached to a lander to be named later, as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. It’ll be NASA’s first robotic  arm sent to the moon in more than 50 years.

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Olis and Tethers Unlimited team up on space robots

Robot arm and Refabricator
An artist’s conception shows a Mantis robotic arm at work on Tethers Unlimited’s Refabricator 3-D printer and recycler. (Tethers Unlimited / Olis Robotics Illustration)

Two space tech companies that are headquartered in the Seattle area, Olis Robotics and Tethers Unlimited, are joining forces to create a new kind of remote-controlled robotic system that could be used on the International Space Station or other off-Earth outposts.

The companies say they’ve signed an agreement to explore further development of the system, in an arrangement that follows up on past collaborations.

Seattle-based Olis Robotics’ software platform allows robots to perform some tasks autonomously and reduce operator workload on other tasks. The platform makes it possible for robots in remote locations to execute their prescribed tasks safely even if their links with remote operators are subject to time delays or data dropouts.

That’s just the kind of resiliency that’s required for space operations, Olis CEO Don Pickering said. “Our variable autonomy software platform allows operators anywhere in the world to command new levels of precision, safety and efficiency in remotely operating robotics in space,” he explained in a news release.

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Olis Robotics will lay out plan for space robots

Satellite-servicing robot
An artist’s conception shows one satellite extending its robotic arm to grasp and refuel another satellite in orbit. (NASA / Goddard Illustration)

Seattle-based Olis Robotics says it has received a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Air Force to lay out a plan for using its AI-driven software platform to control satellite-servicing robots in orbit.

The initial Small Business Innovative Research grant could set the stage for as much as $1.5 million in future Air Force funding, depending on how the plan is received.

Olis, formerly known as Bluhaptics, is a five-year-old spinout from the University of Washington’s Applied Physics Laboratory. It specializes in the development of semi-autonomous control software that’s suitable for underwater remotely operated vehicles as well as space robots.

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NanoRacks names its space outpost team

Orbital outpost
An artist’s conception shows a Centaur upper-stage booster that’s been outfitted to become an orbital outpost. (NanoRacks Illustration)

It takes a village to raise an space outpost, and NanoRacks’ array of villagers includes Stratolaunch as well as Olis Robotics, the startup formerly known as BluHaptics.

NanoRacks, which is headquartered in Texas, today listed those two Seattle-based companies among its partners for a NASA-funded study focusing on the future of commercial human spaceflight in low Earth orbit.

The study is one of 13 that were commissioned by NASA in August as part of its drive to commercialize orbital operations by 2025. That drive could involve handing over the U.S. segment of the International Space Station to private-sector management, or developing brand-new orbital platforms.

NanoRacks has proposed retrofitting the spent upper stages from United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rockets and its yet-to-be-built Vulcan rockets to create habitable outposts. The company unveiled its plan for the first outpost, dubbed Independence-1, in April.

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BluHaptics rebrands itself as Olis Robotics

Olis Robotics control system
Olis Robotics’ operating system is designed to provide added safety, efficiency and semi-autonomous smarts for remotely operated robots. (Olis Robotics Photo)

For five years, a University of Washington spin-out called BluHaptics has been building up a business focusing on robotic control software for underwater robots — and now the Seattle startup is stepping things up a notch under a new name: Olis Robotics.

Olis is also acquiring another Seattle startup, White Marsh Forests, which is expected add new machine learning capabilities to the company’s control system for remotely operated robots undersea, out in space and in other challenging environments.

“With the acquisition of leading-edge machine learning technology, we seized the opportunity to sharpen our vision of disrupting the emerging robotics operating system lindustry,” Olis CEO Don Pickering said today in a news release.

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