Controlling Robots From Space – Eurasia Review


Astronauts in orbit could soon use robots to explore lunar or planetary surfaces without having to expose themselves to the dangers of the extraterrestrial environment. A paper by Kjetil Wormnes and his colleagues based at the European Space Agency (ESA), Noordwijk, The Netherlands, published in the journal De Gruyter Open astronomypresents a simulated geological exploration mission in which, for the first time, astronauts on the International Space Station have obtained direct haptic feedback from the robots they control on the ground, “smelling” the objects they are handling.

Human interplanetary exploration is inspiring, but still largely science fiction; it’s been almost 50 years since anyone set foot on the moon, and crewed expeditions beyond our satellite are still decades away.

Over the past half-century, however, many missions have taken robots to planetary surfaces, and they can operate in conditions far too hostile for human astronauts, but they need direct human control if they must undertake complex missions.

The ANALOG-1 mission, described in this article, is the culmination of 11 separate experiments conducted by ESA over a decade under the METERON banner. Each of them addressed a different aspect of the remote operation of a robot explorer, and ANALOG-1 represents a full system test.

This mission involved an astronaut, Luca Parmitano, orbiting Earth on the International Space Station and controlling a roving robot around an artificial moonscape that had been installed in a former aircraft hangar at ESA’s Technology Center. in the Nederlands. The robot’s task was to select, study and store rock samples.

The experiments proved that Parmitano could control the robot arm as it moved through three translational degrees of freedom and three rotational degrees of freedom, and that the forces it “felt” were transmitted to it. Using haptic feedback, the weightless astronaut could feel the weight of rock samples on the ground as the robot picked them up and manipulated them.

ESA and its American counterpart are both planning future missions to the Moon. “This combination of a robust explorer robot on the lunar surface and a highly skilled astronaut operator in the relative safety of orbit will allow for more difficult and complex investigations on this surface than is currently possible,” says Wormnes. “It is possible that this could, one day, even pave the way for the establishment and maintenance of a human presence on the Moon.”


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