In a series of experiments, collectively called Analog-1, the International Space Station will be used as a stand-in for a spacecraft in orbit around another planetary body, such as the lunar Gateway. From here the next wave of exploration of our Solar System will see humans exploring ‘hand-in-hand’ with robots. Robotic scouts guided from lunar orbit can safely investigate uncharted areas and prepare the land for human explorers to set up camp.
The same approach could also be used to explore Mars and other planets, transplanting human intelligence and agility to alien surfaces without the expense and potential hazard of landing.
The Interact rover pictured here will be commanded by ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano in space as part of ESA’s Multi-Purpose End-To-End Robotic Operation Network, Meteron, project to develop the technology for human and robotic exploration.
Using a specially-developed ‘space internet’ the signal from the Space Station will travel up to 10 000 km one way to the ground, but Luca will still be able to see and even feel what the robot does despite a considerable time delay.
If all goes well and Luca passes his driving test, he will do a full simulation to put Meteron to the test: can Luca command the robot to do a geological survey of interesting areas in the simulated lunar landscape?
The Analog-1 experiment is proving the value of human-robotic cooperation in space and demonstrating the technology that will be used as the basis for many of ESA’s exploration projects. Ministers from ESA’s Member States will convene later this month at the Space19+ in Seville, Spain, to decide on the Agency’s future course.