Burns, Jack - Teleoperation of Rovers on Planetary Surfaces

The Global Exploration Roadmap identified telepresence and teleoperation of rovers on planetary surfaces as important parts of the strategy for exploration of bodies in the solar system.  In this talk, I will present a Telerobotics Roadmap that begins with simulations using rovers on the ground remotely controlled by astronauts in the ISS progressing to teleoperation of a rover on the lunar farside operated by Orion astronauts and leading to human orbital missions around Mars.

The first space-based surface telerobotics engineering tests using the K-10 rover at the NASA Ames Roverscape under the command of astronauts aboard the ISS were conducted in the summer of 2013.  During three 3.5-hr ISS crew sessions, Kapton film strips which will form the backbone of a low frequency radio antenna array were successfully unrolled from the back of the K-10 rover.  These ISS crew sessions achieved a number of “firsts” including the first real-time teleoperation of a planetary rover from the ISS, the first astronaut to interactively control a high fidelity planetary rover in an outdoor analog testbed, and the first realistic simulation of a human-robot “Waypoint” mission concept.

The next step in the Telerobotics Roadmap is at the Earth-Moon L2 libration point in the early 2020’s.  This will provide an avenue to develop expertise needed for longer-duration missions in deep space and a platform to help discover answers to critical scientific questions concerning the origin of our solar system and the Universe’s first galaxies. Potential mission objectives include performing real-time telerobotic exploration on the lunar surface, operating a libration point outpost to practice operations needed for deep-space exploration, and establishing an “interplanetary gateway”,  or assembly point for missions to more distant destinations.  There are two primary science objectives for an “Orion L2 Farside Mission”. The first would be to return to Earth multiple rock samples from the Moon’s South Pole–Aitken (SPA) basin, one of the largest, deepest, and oldest impact basins in the solar system. A sample return from SPA was designated as a priority science objective in the National Research Council (NRC) Planetary Sciences Decadal Survey. The second objective would be to deploy a low radio frequency telescope, where it would be shielded from human-generated radio frequency interference from the Earth and free from ionospheric effects, allowing us to explore currently unobserved primitive epochs of the early Universe. Such observations were recently identified as one of the top science objectives in the NASA Astrophysics Roadmap.