With the success of NASA's Mars Curiosity rover, NASA is now developing a new fleet of rovers for planetary exploration.
But unlike Curiosity, which is controlled at a NASA facility on earth, these rovers would be controlled by astronauts in the International Space Station.
It’s happening at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., where scientists built a moonscape to test the K-10 rover.
At the NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, scientists are developing the next generation of rovers to explore the Moon and Mars.
“K-10 is a planetary rover. It’s designed to allow us to explore natural terrains and it’s equipped with a number of different robot sensors and scientific instruments.”
NASA’s Terry Fong says the sensors make it possible for the robotic rover to see what’s around it and where to drive.
Fong says, “To understand its environment. So we use a lot of different cameras. Up here there’s a stereo pair, so a left camera and a right camera.”
Scientists in a command station on the other side of the NASA campus is testing the K-10 on a simulated moon surface.
In the next couple of months, engineers plan to perform the same test from the international space station.
Fong elaborates, “We’ve never had robot controlled fully, you know, interactive mode from space station. 6.43 So we’re trying to figure out are there differences? Are there things we’re surprised by? Things that we actually have to plan and then design future systems to be able to handle.”
The goal, says NASA, is to make robots like the K-10 ready for the next manned moon mission in 2020, where they’ll use these new planetary rovers to deploy telescopes on the far side of the moon.
Terry Fong continues, “the far side of the moon is an ideal location for doing radio astronomy. It’s radio quiet because you have the whole mass of the moon blocking stray signals. Where you can make observations with a cosmic dawn, so really being able to look far far far back in time and try to understand what happened many billions of years ago.”