Astronauts have been practicising how to remotely control a model rover for a new robotic initiative known as Meteron (Multi-Purpose End-To-End Robotic Operations Network). Meteron is essential in paving the way towards robotic and human missions to the Moon and beyond.
NASA’s Sunita Williams and Candian Chris Hadfield, who will both embark on future missions to the International Space Station, were simulating how they could operate a model rover from space. The training has been taking place at the European Space Agency's European Astronaut Centre in Germany. The training was supported by the Belgian ISS User Support and Operation Centre in Brussels.
Meteron is essential in paving the way towards robotic and human missions to the Moon and beyond.
The astronauts were training with the model rover known as MOCUP, the Meteron Operation and CommUnication Prototype. MOCUP was built from LEGO parts, and it includes some custom-made additions. Its capabilities are limited, and its main purpose will be to ensure that the communications link from the ISS to Earth is functioning efficiently.
This test will be performed by Williams aboard the ISS later in the year, when she will have control of Meteron, which is located in Darmstadt at ESA’s Space Operations Centre. The astronauts aboard will be able to watch the progress of the rover via a laptop.
This communications link will eventually be used to control fully functional robots from the ISS, including Eurobot. The Eurobot Ground Prototype (EGP) is a robotic helper vehicle that can explore a planet’s surface by itself or work with astronauts. The project is being led by Thales Alenia Space in cooperation with ESA.
Its robotic arms can be supplemented with various different tools, depending on the task at hand. Eurobot’s “eyes” include a 3D camera. The highly flexible robot prototype can carry up to 150 kilograms, including an astronaut, who can simply tell it where to go with spoken commands or operate it with a joystick.