Stationed in the International Space Station 400km away from Earth, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Andreas Mogensen remotely operated an Earth-based robotic rover and its robotic arm in a historic first for worldwide space-related technology.
The system, developed by the ESA, is a force-feedback-based teleoperation control system that allows the astronaut to feel whenever the robot’s appendages face resistance, thus allowing him to perform remote-controlled tasks ranging down to sub-millimetres.
The Interact Centaur rover was then used by Mogensen to successfully locate an “operations task board” and placed a metal plug into it with about 0.15mm of clearance. The force-feedback joystick was also used to differentiate stiffness of various springs used in the experiment. Mogensen also had to contend with the two-way time delay of about a second as signals from the ISS that were sent to the robot had to travel a round-trip of more than 144,000km, a journey that includes satellites almost 36,000 km high, to a New Mexico ground station, via NASA Houston, through a transatlantic cable to ESTEC and back.
Speaking for the ESA’s Telerobotics and Haptics Laboratory, André Schiele said that, “We are very happy with today’s results, Andreas managed two complete drive, approach, park and peg-in-hole insertions, demonstrating precision force-feedback from orbit for the very first time in the history of spaceflight. He had never operated the rover before but its controls turned out to be very intuitive. Andreas took 45 minutes to reach the task board and then insert the pin on his first attempt, and less than 10 minutes on his follow-up attempt, showing a very steep learning curve.”
Andreas Mogensen, the first Danish astronaut, is scheduled to return back to Earth on Saturday, 12th September.