British astronaut Tim Peake will control a UK-based rover as he orbits the earth from the International Space Station.
The live space-to-ground test today involves Peake — who is located hundreds of miles away — operating the rover nicknamed "Bridget" in a specially built "Mars yard" at Airbus Defence and Space in Stevenage, Hertfordshire.
The experiment will help researchers learn more about the technology needs for astronauts to navigate rovers while orbiting Mars. It will also give them an insight into how humans and robots can work together.
“Tim will drive it for about 90 minutes,” says Jessica Grenouilleau, of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) robotics and future projects office.
"Interestingly, he will only be provided with basic training on how to react to situations that the rover encounters, as the experiment aims in part to study how humans interact extemporaneously with robotic systems."
The Mars Yard is split into light and dark areas to simulate scenarios such as roving into a cave or a shadowed crater. Peake will drive the rover in the dark area, avoiding obstacles and identifying potential science targets.
Tim be connected via video and data links to the rover at Stevenage using a ‘delay-tolerant’ network, which is a sort of ‘Internet in space’. This will create losses in connections, delays in responding to commands and other disruptions that are expected in future when an astronaut in orbit operates a rover.
“Future missions into the Solar System will include humans working hand-in-hand with robots as our scouts and proxies, gathering scientific and physical information that will make human exploration feasible,” Philippe Schoonejans, head of Robotics and Future Projects and coordinator for ESA’s Meteron project, said.
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