Astronaut controls robot on Earth from the ISS

Astronauts and robots are expected to work more closely together in future lunar and planetary exploration

NASA's K10 rover is seen during a test at the NASA Ames Roverscape on July 26, 2013

NASA's K10 rover is seen during a test at the NASA Ames Roverscape on July 26, 2013

An astronaut aboard the International Space Station has used an extraterrestrial remote control system to manoeuvre a robot rover at NASA's Ames Research Centre in Silicon Valley.

In the test, Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano used the rover to deploy a simulated radio telescope antenna on the Ames Roverscape, a sandy and rocky simulation of the lunar landscape that's about the size of a football field.

Parmitano was controlling the rover from a Java application running on a Lenovo ThinkPad on the ISS. The rover, a four-wheeled robot called a K10, steadily moved around the Roverscape as it was commanded during the test. A team of NASA scientists kept watch on the test at Ames, but it was Parmitano in control all the time, they said.

"Our goal here really, overall, is to understand how humans and robots can really work well together," said Terry Fong, telerobotics program manager at NASA Ames. "And not just any kind of robot, we're really interested in remotely operated robots. In particular, we're looking at how can we use these robots to improve the way humans can live and work in space."

The test, one of a series, points to NASA's latest thinking about lunar and planetary exploration. Whereas the Apollo astronauts did everything themselves and the Mars Rover has done its work autonomously, NASA is looking to a future where astronauts control nearby robots to carry out tasks.

That can't be done easily from Earth because of the long time it takes for radio signals to travel the vast distance to neighboring planets. In the case of Mars, there's an eight-minute delay before a signal reaches the planet, and then an eight-minute return time for a confirmation signal.

So while Friday's test had an ISS astronaut controlling a rover in Silicon Valley, it simulated a future lunar mission with a spacecraft in an orbit between the moon and Earth.

"We've chosen a mission scenario that involves taking a robot to the far side of the moon and deploying a radio telescope to observe the early history of the universe, the so-called cosmic dawn," Fong said.

Scientists are eyeing the moon's far side as a location for a future radio telescope because the moon itself shields the location from radio interference being emitted from Earth. Radio and communications transmitters continuously blast out signals on the frequencies of interest to radio astronomers, so finding a spot with little radio noise is a challenge. After the moon, they estimate the next best location for low radio noise is beyond Jupiter.

In the test, the simulated radio telescope antenna was made of a thin, plastic film that was stored on a roll inside the rover's body. The rover drove to a pre-determined point and one end of the film would drop from the back. It then moved forward, unrolling the antenna onto the ground behind it as it drove.

"The future is going to be an astronaut or a series of astronauts in control of a fleet of rovers, either if you're on the surface of a planetary body like the moon or Mars or from orbit," said Jack Burns, a professor at the University of Colorado and director of the lunar university network for astrophysics research.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags popular scienceNASA

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Martyn Williams

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?