Issue #2(28) 2021 Astronautics

Autonomous robots in space

Future robots assembling a telescope in low Earth orbit. (James Vaughan)
Future robots assembling a telescope in low Earth orbit. (James Vaughan)
Saber Fallah University of Surrey, UK
Tatiana Farcas University of Surrey & ADSS Technology Ltd, UK

As robotic dexterity and computational capabilities have improved, autonomous systems for both automated missions and the assembly of human in-orbit infrastructure have become increasingly important. This trend promises to continue with the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning as so-called ‘collaborative technologies’ are integrated into a variety of mission concepts. Here, the authors provide a progress update based on research work conducted at the University of Surrey, UK.

Space science and human spaceflight were very much at the origin of the global space effort. They have not only been vital sources of inspiration and international cooperation but were also key to the technological advancement of space technologies. Today, the inherent challenges for humans in the space environment provide at least some of the inspiration for the concept of autonomous operation; put simply, if a system can make its own decisions, without human intervention, it can help to avoid placing human lives in danger.

In order to develop new solutions to support human-robot interaction in space, the University of Surrey collaborated with technology consultancy Intelcomm in a project funded by the UK’s SPace Research and Innovation Network for Technology (SPRINT) and supported by the FAIR-SPACE Hub, a SPRINT partner at the Surrey Space Centre. The University of Surrey is a well-known innovator in small satellite technologies, while Intelcomm UK has extensive experience in developing prototypes and fielding mission critical systems for the international communications and aerospace industries.

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