Asteroid mining project to image drilling in space

A university project to investigate mining in space, which uses a vision system to map the particles thrown up by a drill, is underway in Poland.

The DREAM project – standing for Drilling Experiment for Asteroid Mining – is part of the international REXUS programme (Rocket Experiments for University Students), which is sponsored by the European Space Agency (ESA), the Swedish National Space Board (SNSB) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

The project is set to launch in March 2017. A sounding rocket with the DREAM project on board will launch from the Swedish Esrange spaceport near Kiruna.

The DREAM team consists of six students from the Wroclaw University of Technology, together with several corporate sponsors. The rocket will carry equipment to an altitude of 100km to conduct a range of experiments into what happens when rock is drilled in zero gravity.

Wroclaw vision systems specialist Scanway supplied a vision-based measuring chamber for the DREAM project, the aim of which is to produce a chart of the particles that are ejected while the rock is drilled.

The measurement setup consists of a laser line projected parallel to the rock, and a camera – the MvBlueLynx-X smart camera from Matrix Vision – detecting particles passing through the laser line. The data captured will be analysed after the flight.

The MvBlueLynx-X camera was chosen because of its small size and weight. The device is a highly integrated embedded platform, with digital inputs and outputs that can be programmed independently.

‘We are extremely impressed by the quality of the housing and the robust cable connections,’ said Jędrzej Kowalewski, CEO of Scanway, speaking about the camera. He added: ‘The low weight of the camera makes it extremely attractive for aerospace systems.’

All of the equipment used in the project, from cables to the motor, must not exceed 6kg. The REXUS rocket and its equipment are subjected to forces of up to 21 g, and the entire flight lasts just six minutes, 120 seconds of which is the actual flight in zero gravity. The experiment must therefore be successfully completed within that 120-second window.

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