Broadcast 3685 Tom McCarthy

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  • The Space Foundation Conference

  • The Space Foundation Conference

The Space Foundation Conference

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Guest:  Tom McCarthy;  Topics:  Motiv Space Systems product, research & technology development. Mars hardware on 2020 rover, space manufacturing, precision robotics, space robotics compared to terrestrial industrial and medical robots plus more.

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We welcomed Tom McCarthy, Co-founder and VP of Business Development for Motiv Space Systems of Pasadena, CA to the show.  To learn more about Motiv, visit their website at  In starting our discussion, I asked our guest to introduce us to Motiv and to talk with us about their hardware which is part of the Mars 2020 rover on the Martian surface now.  Tom told us about the start of the company going back to 2014 and the company vision for problem solving regarding space motion control issues.  After the introduction, I asked our guest to define motion control for us.  In doing so, our guest referenced several good examples.

Our guest was asked to differentiate his company and their products from other space robotic companies as there is competition in the industry. Don't miss how this question was answered, especially when it came to describing the Motiv team.  The discussion focus shifted a bit as Tom was asked about some of the differences in a space robot destined for Mars and a highly advanced terrestrial robot or even an advanced super accurate medical robot doing very fine precision surgery.  Don't miss this discussion as it was enlightening and informative.  Also brought up was the subject of space settlement and the use of precision robots for all phases of settlement development and operation.  In addition, Tom was asked about space acquired technology being transferred back to Earth for use in industry here on the home planet. 

Fremont John called to talk about the Motiv space servicing projects, OSAM 1 and OSAM 2.  You can check them out on the Motiv website at and  Tom talked about space servicing and working with Made In Space, working with 3D printing, solar array beams and more.  Later in the discussion, John asked about the space challenges they were facing.  Our guest provided some examples plus John and Tom talked about problems from lunar dust impacting robotics.  Tom mentioned several projects working with multiple variations of simulated lunar regolith. 

Tom was asked about the Motiv specifics on the Mars 2020 rover.  He described the robotic arm, providing operational and movement specs.  He talked about the docking system and imagery with the camera.  Our guest was then asked how Motiv, a relatively young company, had the experience to build such robust and reliable space hardware.  Tom talked about his team having flight heritage experience from previous jobs and positions.  Don't miss this part of the discussion.

Listener Todd asked about power for the arm.  Tom said the 2020 rover provided the power for everything with an RTG on board.  That said, our guest did address the need to minimize the use of power, something that was a top priority not only for operations but also in manufacturing the components for the rover.  Listener Sally sent in a note asking our guest specific questions about how they test something like a robotic arm. Tom talked about both in space demos and testing plus the type of testing available for space hardware here on Earth. Also, at what point did the responsibility for the hardware pass to NASA rather staying with Motiv.  Listener Jack wanted to know if Motiv won a bid to build this equipment or did they get the project without competition.  The answer was through a bid and we talked some more about industry competition in this field. 

As we were approaching the end of our program, Tom was asked about orbital servicing in general as that had been and still is a popular Space Show topic.  Tom had much to say about orbital servicing and projects under way or having taken place.  For example, he described the Intelsat MEV project with Northrup Grumman. Motiv handled the motion control robotics on the mission.  Before ending our discussion, I asked Tom about the jobs listed as being available on the Motiv website.  Internships with the company were discussed and Tom invited those interested to contact the company with their information.  Our guest offered us closing and summary comments.

Please post your comments/questions for Tom McCarthy and Motiv on our blog for this show. You can reach our guest through me or the company website listed above in this program summary.




Motiv hardware and programs for Mars

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07 May 2021 Tom McCarthy
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