Friday, May 06, 2011

NASA Project M

Could the U.S. put the first robot on the moon?

That is the goal of a small team of NASA scientists at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. As the world gears up for the launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery tomorrow with a humanoid robot ("robonaut") on board, another group of NASA scientists has proposed sending the same type of robot alone to the moon, in just 1,000 days. They call the idea Project M (M being the Roman numeral for 1,000).
As demonstrated in the concept video below, the robonot would travel to the moon on a small lander fueled by liquid methane and liquid oxygen, a cheap and lightweight fuel source. After landing, it could walk on the surface, perform some basic maintenance and construction duties, and test out student experiments.
Project M appears to have sprung out of some frustration over a lack of funding and bureacracy related to space research. Last fall, the Obama administration stopped funding the Houston center's ambitious Constellation project which would send more astronauts to the moon by 2020.
"We were frustrated. We saw what we had built and accomplished in the Engineering Directorate at JSC and knew we could do better. The talent was there; we just needed to unleash it," wrote project manager Matt Ondler on the Project M homepage.
The 1,000 day deadline is somewhat arbitrary, but as Ondler explained, the purpose is to complete the project before too many presidential administrations go by, thereby increasing the chance of its irrelevance.
The New York Times reports that Project M would cost no more than $450 million, a fraction of the $150 billion requested to send human astronauts to the moon.
A NASA spokeswoman said Project M was "just one of many ideas" floating around the center and has not been given authority to proceed, nor is there any active fundraising for the idea.
By Sara Yin


What is a Robonaut?

A Robonaut is a dexterous humanoid robot built and designed at NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Our challenge is to build machines that can help humans work and explore in space. Working side by side with humans, or going where the risks are too great for people, Robonauts will expand our ability for construction and discovery. Central to that effort is a capability we call dexterous manipulation, embodied by an ability to use one's hand to do work, and our challenge has been to build machines with dexterity that exceeds that of a suited astronaut.
There are currently four Robonauts, with others currently in development. This allows us to study various types of mobility, control methods, and task applications. The value of a humanoid over other 

designs is the ability to use the same workspace and tools - not only does this improve efficiency in the types of tools, but also removes the need for specialized robotic connectors. Robonauts are essential to NASA's future as we go beyond low earth orbit and continue to explore the vast wonder that is space.
Robonaut 2 or R2, launched to the International Space Station on space shuttle Discovery as part of the STS-133 mission, it is the first dexterous humanoid robot in space, and the first US-built robot at the space station. But that was just one small step for a robot and one giant leap for robot-kind.
Initially R2 will be deployed on a fixed pedestal inside the ISS. Next steps include a leg for climbing through the corridors of the Space Station, upgrades for R2 to go outside into the vacuum of space, and then future lower bodies like legs and wheels to propel the R2 across Lunar and Martian terrain. A four wheeled rover called Centaur 2 is being evaluated at the 2010 Desert Field Test in Arizona as an example of these future lower bodies for R2.

Robonaut 2



In the current iteration of Robonaut, Robonaut 2 or R2, NASA and General Motors are working together with assistance from Oceaneering Space Systems engineers to accelerate development of the next generation of robots and related technologies for use in 

R2 20 pound weight, Robonaut 
the automotive and aerospace industries. Robonaut 2 (R2) is a state of the art highly dexterous anthropomorphic robot. Like its predecessor Robonaut 1 (R1), R2 is capable of handling a wide range of EVA tools and interfaces, but R2 is a significant advancement over its predecessor. R2 is capable of speeds more than four times faster than R1, is more compact, is more dexterous, and includes a deeper and wider range of sensing. Advanced technology spans the entire R2 system and includes: optimized overlapping dual arm dexterous workspace, series elastic joint technology, extended finger and thumb travel, miniaturized 6-axis load cells, redundant force sensing, ultra-high speed joint controllers, extreme neck travel, and high resolution camera and IR systems. The dexterity of R2 allows it to use the same tools that astronauts currently use and removes the need for specialized tools just for robots.
One advantage of a humanoid design is that Robonaut can take over simple, repetitive, or especially dangerous tasks on places such as the International Space Station. Because R2 is approaching human dexterity, tasks such as changing out an air filter can be performed without modifications to the existing design.
Another way this might be beneficial is during a robotic precursor mission. R2 would bring one set of tools for the precursor mission, such as setup and geologic investigation. Not only does this improve efficiency in the types of tools, but also removes the need for specialized robotic connectors. Future missions could then supply a new set of tools and use the existing tools already on location
For Education focused information about Robonaut and robotics in general go to NASA Education Robotics page.

Mission to the International Space Station

R2 ISS Mission Patch, Robonaut Patch

On February 24th 2011, NASA launched the first human-like robot to space to become a permanent resident of the International Space Station. Robonaut 2, or R2, was developed jointly by NASA and General Motors under a cooperative agreement to develop a robotic assistant that can work alongside humans, whether they are astronauts in space or workers at GM manufacturing plants on Earth.
 The 300-pound R2 consists of a head and a torso with two arms and two hands. R2 will launch on space shuttle Discovery as part of the STS-133 mission planned for February 24th. Once aboard the station, engineers will monitor how the robot operates in weightlessness. Throughout its first decade in orbit, the space station has served as a test bed for human and robotic teamwork for construction, maintenance and science.

R2 will be confined to operations in the station's Destiny laboratory. However, future enhancements and modifications may allow it to move more freely around the station's interior or outside the complex.

"This project exemplifies the promise that a future generation of robots can have both in space and on Earth, not as replacements for humans but as companions that can carry out key supporting roles," said John Olson, director of NASA's Exploration Systems Integration Office at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "The combined potential of humans and robots is a perfect example of the sum equaling more than the parts. It will allow us to go farther and achieve more than we can probably even imagine today."

The dexterous robot not only looks like a human but also is designed to work like one. With human-like hands and arms, R2 is able to use the same tools station crew members use. In the future, the greatest benefits of humanoid robots in space may be as assistants or stand-in for astronauts during spacewalks or for tasks too difficult or dangerous for humans. For now, R2 is still a prototype and does not have adequate protection needed to exist outside the space station in the extreme temperatures of space.

Testing the robot inside the station will provide an important intermediate environment. R2 will be tested in microgravity and subjected to the station's radiation and electromagnetic interference environments. The interior operations will provide performance data about how a robot may work side-by-side with astronauts. As development activities progress on the ground, station crews may be provided hardware and software to update R2 to enable it to do new tasks.

R2 is undergoing extensive testing in preparation for its flight. Vibration, vacuum and radiation testing along with other procedures being conducted on R2 also benefit the team at GM. The automaker plans to use technologies from R2 in future advanced vehicle safety systems and manufacturing plant applications.

"The extreme levels of testing R2 has undergone as it prepares to venture to the International Space Station are on par with the validation our vehicles and components go through on the path to production," said Alan Taub, vice president of GM's global research and development. "The work done by GM and NASA engineers also will help us validate manufacturing technologies that will improve the health and safety of our GM team members at our manufacturing plants throughout the world. Partnerships between organizations such as GM and NASA help ensure space exploration, road travel and manufacturing can become even safer in the future."

R2 in EMI chamber, Robonaut, Robonaut2

R2 inside the EMI Chamber waiting to move on to the next set of environmental tests. EMI testing is critical for any piece of space hardware.
Date: 08-02-2010
Location: EMI Test Chamber at NASA Johnson Space Center
Photo Credit: Kris Kehe

R2, Robonaut, Robonaut2

R2 packed in SLEEPR. This is the system that will protect R2 during launch on STS-133
Date: 08-18-2010
Location: KSC SSPF

Radiation Testing, Robonaut, Robonaut2

Kevin Bass remotely monitors power to the testing rig during irradiation.
Date: 05-11-2010

Photo Credit: Joe Bibby

Articles taken from NASA oficial site


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