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NASA Robonaut and DARPA Phoenix pioneer innovative methods of reusability in space programs

by Rus Abz 2011-10-21 12:58

Robonaut Centaur - www.nasa.govReusability promises to greatly reduce cost of new and extremely expensive space programs in deep space missions to Mars and Jupiter and help build less expensive replacement satellites at geosynchronous orbits closer to Earth.

With the variety of space systems, instruments and tools which are already in space the challenge is to build humanoid robotic machines, the Robonauts, that can help humans work and explore in space. Working side by side with human Astronauts, the Robonauts would be going where the need for discovery and construction is at stake but risks are too great for people. Robonaut may be thought as an expansion intelligent machine able to fit into operating environment of human astronauts and reuse same tools which human astronaut is using to perform key space environment management tasks. Effective tool usage and craft extension capability , the "dexterous manipulation", embodied within most common operation cycles of human astronaut or robot's hand defines requirements to create robotic machines with dexterity that exceeds that of a suited human astronaut. Robonaut is designed with the ability to move around within the boundaries of the same workspace and same tools eliminating the need for specialized robotic connectors and specialized tools just for robots.

Working as a team Human Astronaut and Robonaut are are helping each other to complete complex tasks, interchangeably reusing the same set of tools and operating in the same space environment. Team work optimizes the main construction and management tasks with improved efficiency operating all types of available tools, increases performance and lowering risks to human life.

That is the major strategic cost reduction approach which could be applied not only with the space mission programs, but also in aerospace and automotive industries.

NASA, General Motors and Oceaneering Space Systems engineers work together to accelerate development of the next generation of Robonauts with high dexterity. The other major focus of the new undertaking is creating new generation of universal tool sets which could be easily shared and reused by human astronauts and robonauts.

Reusing of the valuable tools and robonaut talents in deep space missions is one way to reduce costs in space programs. The other important undertaking in cost saving approaches is to reuse resources, parts and modules of spacecraft orbiting around Earth.

Myriad of non-working satellites are GEO-orbiting 22,000 miles above the Earth. Over $300 billion worth of retired satellites are currently wasted in their geosynchronous orbits. DARPA is proposing the "Phoenix" satellite GEO servicing space program, which seeks to develop reusability technologies to cooperatively harvest and re-use valuable components from retired satellites. High cost large scale antennas, high resolution telescope modules, GPS antennas and GPS navigational modules could last much longer than the life of the satellite. The weight and volume of large scale antennas are among the primary drivers of the high launch costs. The repurposing of existing antennas acquired from retired satellites orbiting on the graveyard orbit represents a key potential for significant cost savings. DARPA concept targets space debris to become a valuable resource for newly overhauled satellites constructed on the orbit.

The success of NASA Robonauts reusing the human astronaut tools in deep space projects could let Robonauts find their new jobs at DARPA GEO harvesting programs, helping collect and GEO service newly overhauled quality modules and repurposed satellite components from non-working retired satellites. Robonaut and GEO servicing concept partnership promises to create new space systems at greatly reduced cost.


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