The ESA has spent the past few years working towards the creation of an international lunar base, something that will serve as a spiritual successor to the International Space Station (ISS). To accomplish this, they have enlisted the help of other space agencies and contractors to develop concepts for space habitats and construction methods as well as ways to provide robotic and logistical support.
Recently, the ESA’s Technology Development Element (TDE) signed on with the French technology developer COMEX to create the TRAILER robotic system. This two-year project will test a new mission architecture where two rovers work in tandem (and with the help of astronauts) for the sake of exploring the lunar surface and building a permanent outpost on the Moon.
Back in November, ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano made history by taking command of a rover from the International Space Station (ISS). As part of the Analog-1 experiments, this feat was made possible thanks to a “space internet” command infrastructure and a force-feedback control setup. This allowed Parmitano to remotely operate a rover 10,000 km (6,200 mi) away while orbiting Earth at a speed of 8 km/s (28,800 km/h; 17,900 mph).
Update: The Analog-1 experiment was a complete success! Astronaut Parmitano completed all the requirements within the specified time frame (one hour).This test is the first step in validating the teleoperation technology.
NASA has been rather up-front about its desire to send astronauts back to the Moon and on to Mars in the coming years. They are joined by multiple space agencies (such as the ESA, Roscosmos, the CNSA and the IRSO) who also wish to conduct their first crewed missions beyond Earth. However, what is often overlooked is the role teleoperated missions will play in the near-future – where humans and robots explore hand-in-hand.
For example, the ESA has embarked upon a series of experiments collectively named Analog-1, where astronauts control robots from space. Yesterday (Nov. 18th), ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano took control of a robot in the Netherlands from the ISS. This experiment and others like it will help prepare astronauts for future missions that will involve the exploration of hazardous or inaccessible off-world environments.