NASA astronaut Jack Fischer operating a rover in Germany from the International Space Station 28 August 2017. Part of ESA’s METERON project, the experiment with German Aerospace Center DLR’s robot, nicknamed Rollin’ Justin, is about developing ways to allow astronauts to control robots from orbit.
This experiment saw Justin, based in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, in a Mars scenario tasked with diagnosing solar panels. ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli, flying at 28 800 km/h and 400 km above Earth, worked with Justin to inspect three solar panels and find a malfunction. He then instructed Justin to plug in a diagnostic tool read and upload the error logs. Two of Paolo’s crewmates floated by while running the experiment and wanted to give it a try. Paolo gave a quick on-the-spot training and NASA astronauts Randy Bresnik and Jack ran through the first scenario without any problems.
These tests were chosen to enact future scenarios in which astronauts orbiting distant planets and moons can instruct robots to do difficult or dangerous tasks and set up base before landing for further exploration.
ESA has run multiple experiments from the Space Station with robots to test the network, the control system and the robots on Earth. This is a new area for everybody involved and each aspect needs to be tested.
This experiment, dubbed ‘SUPVIS-Justin’, focused on Justin and the user interface used to interact with the robot.