Next-gen astronauts: robots becoming robonauts

Robots have been shaping our world and changing the way we explore the space. Now there are robots for all the significant work at International Space Station. They have plenty of sensors that helps astronauts. These are highly functioning machines with inherited intelligence are now on the way to switch places with human astronauts.


Robonaut is a joint project by DARPA–NASA designed to create a humanoid robot, which can function and perform task equivalent to humans during the 1970s and exploration. The large goal of the Robonaut project is to build a robot with skill that exceeds that of a suited astronaut. Currently there are four different robonauts with others are in developing stage, this variety of robonauts allows for the study of different stages of movement and tasking for each situation. All four versions of this robot have been designed for various locomotion methods. Many of the versions of the robot use the Segway HT for locomotion. Robonaut consists of telepresence and various levels of robotic autonomy. While these robots cannot duplicate all human range of motion and sensitivity, the robot’s hand can move by fourteen degrees of freedom and uses touch sensors at the tips of its finger.

There are two working robonauts, R1 and R2. R1 and R2 are very much capable robots and are able to handle a wide range of tools and tasks. Robonaut 2 or R2 was flown to the space station as part of mission and was the first humanoid robot in space. In the future legs will be added, to make Robonaut to mission out into the vacuum of space.


Usually pronounced “Razor”, stands for Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot. It is a lunar robot that will freely excavate soil when it is near completion, with its small tank like chassis with a Drum excavator and either side mounted on arms, which can help the robot climb over hurdles that may be in its way. With these arms the robot can effectively right itself if it flips over and lift itself off the ground the clear its tracks of debris. With the drums located vertically RASSOR stands at about 2.5 ft. tall and expected to weigh about 45.35 Kg. With a top speed of about 4 centimeters per second (nearly five times faster than the Curiosity rover on mars) the RASSOR will work 16 hours a day for many years. In its design NASA has moved away from its usual delicate and slow robot to design something more vigorous and hardy. The 2 excavating drums are designed to slowly take away soil into a hopper that can hold 18.14 Kg of material. The little robot will then get-up-and-go to a processing plant where the lunar soil could be chemically broken down and converted into rocket fuel, water or breathing air for astronauts working on the moon or mars. In-situ resource use of lunar soil for fuel could save the costs of launching a rocket as 90% of the rockets weight consists of propellants.


The team working on the RASSOR has found some faults with using tank tracks as they can become jammed with small pebbles and sand, which could cause the tracks to fall off. The team is weighing their options and seeing changing the material of the tracks or swapping to wheels. The RASSOR 2 is already being designed and the sample could be much closer to something NASA actually would launch.


Spidernaut is an arachnid inspired Extra Vehicular Robot (EVR) that is being designed by a NASA for construction, maintenance, and repair projects in future space missions that would be too difficult or too dangerous for a human. The Spidernaut’s legs can move at three different points, one rotating joint in the hip and two more joints that are linear actuated. Each leg weighs 18.14 Kg but is capable of supporting 45.35 Kg and exerting upwards of 113.39 Kg of force. With the robots final weight of nearly 272.15 Kg evenly spread out across its eight legs Spidernaut will be able to climb across many surfaces including solar panels and the exterior of space craft without causing any damage. The feet of the robot are modular, meaning they can be removed and replaced for different situations that the robot may be placed in. The avionics and other electrical systems of the Spidernaut are located in what would be its thorax and are made up of brushless DC motor controllers and power and data distributors along with the power source. The robot is power-driven by a 72V/3600 Watt-hour lithium ion battery, which feeds a Power Conditioning and Distribution Module, which down converts the 72V main bus to all the desirable voltages for all the different devices on board. NASA has also begun experimenting with a “web” like cable arrangement system that would allow the robot to climb and swing above structures that cannot support even light forces.


Sphere can also be called Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, and Experimental Satellites. These satellites are in the experimental phase at NASAand are about the size of a bowling ball. Each Sphere is self-reliant with its own power, propulsion, computers, and navigation equipment. The Spheres are developed to be used inside a space station to test how well the spheres can track a set of detailed flight instructions. While inside an interplanetary station three spheres will be given a set of instructions such as an autonomous engagement and docking move. The outcomes from the sphere testing will be applied to satellite servicing, vehicle assembly, and future space craft that will be designed to fly in a formation.

By‑Dikshant Singh

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