Human Exploration Telerobotics (HET)

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Human Exploration Telerobotics (HET)

Robonaut"Man is a shrewd inventor, and is ever taking the hint of a new machine from his own structure."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson, 19th century American poet

Forging a permanent human presence in space requires a great deal of groundwork to be laid -- from deeper understanding of all our future destinations and their environments to extra sets of "eyes" and "hands" that help and protect our astronauts during their journeys in space and long-term expeditions on other worlds. To that end, NASA and its partners rely on a variety of highly capable, versatile and sophisticated robots to investigate worlds beyond our own, refine tools, technologies and systems, complement the work of human astronauts -- and prepare the way for crewed missions to the farthest reaches of the solar system.

The Human Exploration Telerobotics (HET) Technology Demonstration Mission is demonstrating how telerobotics -- remote control of a variety of robotic arms, rovers and other devices -- can take routine, highly repetitive, dangerous or long-duration tasks out of human hands, and improve and hasten human space exploration missions to new destinations.

The team, led by NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., is testing robots remotely operated by controllers on the ground or by astronauts in space. Two of these robots -- Robonaut 2 and the "Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient Experimental Satellites," or SPHERES -- are aboard the International Space Station. Others, including the K10 planetary rover, operate at NASA field centers. All these projects will provide crucial new insight into the requirements, benefits, limitations, costs and risks of integrating telerobotics into future deep-space exploration missions. Researchers also will be better able to coordinate human and robot activities to maximize crew safety, mission success and scientific return on investment.

The Human Exploration Telerobotics team also is leading testing of new Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) software for telerobotics to improve network connectivity and minimize delays in data delivery between computers on the ground and robots in space. The innovative DTN solution is helping NASA and other space agencies create a "Space Internet" with broad applications for all future robotic and human operations in space. The team also collaborates with industry to increase the use of open-source software and open standards for robotics.

Human Exploration Telerobotics research will continue through 2014.

The HET project is sponsored by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and is managed by NASA’s Ames Research Center.

HET: Key Mission Facts

- In space exploration, robots must work in extreme conditions, and must be remotely operated over highly constrained communication networks. Consequently, telerobots now in use on Earth are largely inappropriate for space operations, and new, advanced designs and control modes are required.
- The Human Exploration Telerobotics mission makes extensive use of open-source software -- from user interfaces to robot controllers -- and relies on open-source platforms such as Android and Linux for most computing. Open source accelerates software development, increases quality and makes technology transfer easier.
- The SPHERES free-flying robots use an Android "Nexus S" smartphone for data processing -- the first commercial smartphone certified by NASA to fly on the space shuttle and the first cleared for use on the International Space Station.
- Robonaut 2 is a two-armed, humanoid robot flown to the space station in 2011. Robonaut 2 is part of a long-term NASA effort to develop robots with dexterous manipulation capabilities similar to those of suited astronauts.
- Disruption Tolerant Networking software is used to compensate for intermittent network connectivity and delays when sending data between computers on the ground and robots in space. NASA and other space agencies are using it to create a "Space Internet."


Page Last Updated: October 30th, 2013
Page Editor: Brooke Boen