Artificial intelligence is set to play a major role in future space missions. More automation can reduce ground operations, costs and eventually risks.
ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli (right on screen) operated a rover in Germany from the International Space Station 28 August 2017. Part of ESA’s Meteron project, the experiment with a DLR German Aerospace Center “Justin” robot is about allowing astronauts to control robots from orbit.
This experiment saw Justin, in Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany, in a Mars scenario tasked with diagnosing solar panels. Paolo, 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.
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.