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Mars Moon NASA Robotics Space Science Hardware

NASA Outlines Plan For Next-Gen Space Robots 89

Posted by Soulskill
from the more-than-meets-the-eye dept.
CWmike writes "Imagine a team of robots — some rolling on wheels, some walking on two legs — working alongside astronauts on the surface of Mars, scouting previously unseen locations, measuring the parameters of a new base or constructing a building. Now picture astronauts driving across the Martian surface in a vehicle. When the astronauts get out and begin their work, they can flip a switch to turn the vehicle into an autonomous robot that goes off to undertake projects on the planet. Whatever work the next generation of NASA-developed space robots does, it will be done in conjunction with their human counterparts. Terry Fong, director of NASA's intelligent robotics group, said that's the image that a lot of the US space agency's engineers have in mind as they work on the new robotic rovers. In comparison, the Mars rovers on the Red Planet have been working alone for years. 'We're working on a new use of these robots — robots to support human exploration,' Fong said. 'NASA is now thinking, "How do you go about sending humans to the moon or Mars or elsewhere? How can you use the combination of humans and robots to do exploration better?" I think it's a really, really fundamentally different approach.' Fong said he's hopeful that the next-generation robotic rovers will arrive on the moon or on an asteroid within five to 10 years."
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NASA Outlines Plan For Next-Gen Space Robots

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  • by joelsanda (619660) on Friday May 07, 2010 @02:06PM (#32130312) Homepage
    Aren't we going to be relying upon other countries just to cart stuff and people to and from the ISS after the space shuttles hit the Smithsonian?
  • by Jeng (926980) on Friday May 07, 2010 @02:11PM (#32130416)

    Shuttle doesn't launch interplanetary missions.

    We aren't launching robots to the ISS.

  • by Nyeerrmm (940927) on Friday May 07, 2010 @02:25PM (#32130658)

    The space program is funded. The reason for the gap isn't a lack of funding, its a matter of extremely poor management. The new direction for the budget is probably going to get our manned program back off the ground, if it ever passes.

    Additionally, we have plenty of ways to get unmanned stuff off the ground, only manned vehicles are an issue. The unmanned space program should be (and is) a source of pride for the country, and is doing quite well.

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Friday May 07, 2010 @03:17PM (#32131644) Homepage Journal

    'We're working on a new use of these robots -- robots to support human exploration,' Fong said. 'NASA is now thinking, "How do you go about sending humans to the moon or Mars or elsewhere? How can you use the combination of humans and robots to do exploration better?"

    Actually, the most practical vision is the reverse: humans to support robot exploration of space. The main reason to send humans into space is simply to expand the range of our species beyond our planet. Not because we're better than robots in exploring and exploiting space, but because human achievement is the reason for even robots in space. And if we're to inspire humans on Earth to achieve, to include space as part of our "world", we need humans in space - even if we're just along for the ride.

    Where humans exceed robots is in our flexibility and adaptability. Robots will get into trouble in space, trouble that robots can't always get them out of. Humans alongside them, or at least up there closer to them, can troubleshoot and devise new uses and missions for the robots. That kind of work justifies having humans working there.

    Humans and robots are complementary in space. We should think of our role as making the robots do their job better. Which the robots can see as their expanding our human activities out there.

  • by khallow (566160) on Friday May 07, 2010 @05:37PM (#32133338)

    Pegasus: 443kg to LEO Minotaur: 580kg to LEO Athena: 1896kg to LEO. This might just be enough to get a single astronaut to the ISS. Getting him/her home is another story. Taurus: 5500kg to LEO. Two up, maybe one down. Falcon 9: Not operational yet. Delta IV: 25,800 kg to LEO. Enough to lift an Orion module to ISS... barely. Atlas V: 29,420 kg to LEO. Again, enough to lift an Orion module, but nothing much beyond that.

    Delta II: 1989
    Delta IV: 2002
    Delta IV Heavy: 2004
    Pegasus: 1990
    Taurus: 1994
    Athena: 1995
    Atlas V: 2002
    Falcon 1: 2006
    Falcon 9: pending, 2010?
    Minotaur I: 2000
    Minotaur II: 2000
    Minotaur IV: 2010

    The thing to notice here is that with the exception of a few rockets from Lockheed Martin and Orbital Sciences (including the very popular Delta II), every commercial US rocket currently flying has started (I include launch failures in the above list) in the last ten years. In particular the big payload rockets, Delta IV and Atlas V both started in 2002, eight years ago. Why have NASA develop an HLV when we have an active launch market that already has shown it can develop rockets? While DIRECT and the "not Shuttle C" options look like means to quickly convert the Shuttle stack into a viable cargo launch vehicle for a much lower cost than Ares V, it's not clear to me why we should go that route when we can encourage commercial launch vehicles to enter this area.

    My view is that instead, NASA should work its current manned approach around 15-25 ton launch vehicles. Then order larger vehicles around 50 or so tons once NASA has demonstrated a willingness to help establish a manned market in the 15-25 ton range.

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