Released 29/04/2016 4:53 pm
Copyright UK Space Agency
29 April 2016
ESA astronaut Tim Peake today controlled, from the International Space Station, a rover nicknamed Bridget at Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage as part of an international experiment to prepare for human–robotic missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.
Building on previous test campaigns in the ESA-led Meteron project, the experiment saw ESA, the UK Space Agency and Airbus Defence and Space working together to investigate distributed control of robots in a mock-Mars environment.
David Parker, Director of Human Spaceflight and Robotic Exploration, said: “This experiment further proves we can operate rovers while orbiting a planet, another significant step in our vision to send astronauts and robots together to explore our Solar System.
“Our investments over the last years in human spaceflight and robotic exploration have showed real results today and prepared the way for our future ambitions to the Moon and beyond.”
The simulated Mars environment, dubbed the Mars Yard, was created by Airbus to develop the locomotion and navigation systems for ESA’s ExoMars rover. The experiment will provide valuable data to assess the benefits of human involvement in a rover’s path planning.
Tim Peake at the rover control station in Europe’s Columbus space laboratory.
The experiment also involved teams at ESA’s ESOC operations centre in Germany, which served as the mission control centre for the experiment, and Belgium’s Station User Support and Operation Centre in Brussels, serving as the interface to the Station.
As future exploration of the Solar System is both a human and robotic endeavour, the purpose of Meteron is to prepare for missions that are likely to involve astronauts orbiting the planet and controlling or supervising rovers on its surface.
The advantage of this method is that it will cut out the time delay due to distance experienced when controlling rovers from Earth and allow more direct intervention from humans when needed, such as navigating around hazards or identifying targets.
Human exploration is a relatively new yet expanding area for the UK, where there is a strong heritage in robotics and autonomous systems – important technologies to the country’s international competiveness, productivity and economic growth across a broad range of industrial sectors.
The international ExoMars mission is a great example of success in robotics, with the UK being the second-largest contributor to the mission through ESA. This contribution has secured the future of the high-impact space programme and given the UK the overall leadership of the rover module whose complete design, including the final integration and testing, will be done in the UK.