The team's initial project task is to develop and demonstrate a remote-controlled robot that can remove the insulating blanket flap that covers the satellite's fuel access port by cutting the plastic tape that holds it in place without damaging the blanket or the flap itself, so it can be reattached. A long-distance test of this procedure is planned, during which an operator at Johns Hopkins will guide a robot located in West Virginia through the tape-cutting procedure.
Johns Hopkins University graduate students Tian Xia, left, and Jonathan Bohren, right, use a modified Da Vinci medical robot console (behind Bohren) to control an industrial robot at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center 30 miles away. This demonstrates how medical robotics technology could help repair and refuel space satellites. (Source: Will Kirk/Homewoodphoto.jhu.edu)
The Goddard Space Flight Center houses NASA's Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office, which runs the Notional Robotic Servicing Mission. The office has already begun a predecessor project, the Robotic Refueling Mission. In September, this mission's tools module was installed on the International Space Station. This mission is a joint project of NASA and the Canadian Space Agency. It includes the space station's Dextre robot, remotely controlled by flight controllers at Goddard. In addition, there are specialized tools for cutting and manipulating wires, unscrewing caps, opening and closing valves, and transferring the fluid fuel. The tools were developed by the same engineers that created the astronaut's tools used for servicing the Hubble servicing missions. The Robotic Refueling Mission's purpose is to demonstrate the feasibility of a remote-controlled robot performing servicing operations, such as refueling.
In November of 2009 I underwent prostate cancer surgery. The DaVinci robot was the instrument used to perform the surgery.
More than two years later I feel great and without a trace of cancer. I suspect if the robot is nimble enough to perform prostate surgery, satellites in need of repair shouldn't have much to worry about.
BuzzBodhi, I remember those days, too. But it's been awhile, and now there's a lot more funding for medical research, plus way more OTS technology software and hardware platforms. I agree, this looks like a circling back of technology development.
That's an interesting comment, vimalkumarp. I agree about the need to better link different different knowledge domains. But I think it's been awhile, at least in the US, since mil-aero was the source domain for new electronics tech, although that may have shifted in the last few years. For some time now, since the rise of the consumer sector, it seems like most of the technology platforms have come from there, since that's where most of the R&D dollars were going. Perhaps this has been different in the area of robotics.
Normal trend is to use the high technology developed for space application for solving common man's problems. Here the role reversal which clearly shows the importance of linking different domains of knowledge.
naperlou, thanks for weighing in on satellite costs. That's about what I thought. Although the webpage that describes NASA's Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office's Notional Robotic Servicing Mission, which my story discusses, does imply that satellites cost a lot, no dollar amounts are given. You've got a good point about latency. That, and other things, made me wonder just how much can really be tested here on terra firma for remotely operating robots in space. Of course, this is at the very beginning of the research project and was simply an initial demo, so we don't know what's planned for later in the process. I agree it's not a done deal.
Ann, the cost of those satellites is enormous. Frankly, the sending of a human mission may still be worth it, if the government could bet its programs back together.
I worked on some of the satelites that are in low earth orbit as well as geosync. A price tag of $1.5B for a single satelite is not undheard of. Many of these were part of a constellation.
Of course, one of the issues of the space program is funding. I worked on the Space Station Program for a large aerospace contractor in the mid 1980s. I worked with people who had worked on it ten years priior. It was finally launched at least ten years after I worked on it. Believe me, there was not that much change in between in the design.
There is an issue with servicing a satelite in geosync orbit that, from the article, is not fully resolved. That is one communications engineers run into with satellites, namely latency. The distances over which the robots would be operated require an approach different from that used in terrestial systems.
The concept at the time I worked on these things was to bring the geosync satellites into low earth orbit where the shuttle or space station could provide a platform to work on them using robot and human resources.
I think those are good points about difficulties caused by the need to use telemetry. However, if the machine vision is good enough to do surgery with by a remote operator, it may well be good enough to give enough feedback to the human operator on earth so that, for example, a piece of equipment in the way would be relatively simple for the robot to negotiate. It's also poissible, if not likely, that the equipment needing reapir is or will be designed with all that in mind.
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