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Artemis and Beyond: Contemporary Developments in Space Robotics

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

In a previous blog, we discussed the implications and ethics of sending robots to space; with our current reliance on automated technology in extra-planetary explorations, non-human entities from Earth have started to dominate. While these debates should continue to be discussed, robotics are ultimately critical components of contemporary space exploration. New, computerized, economic, and implementable developments make the prospect of sending humans to the moon for even every few years unreasonable, even for science. In addition, recently identified uncertainties, from lunar dust to extreme temperatures, hinder the ability of lunar travel without the use of extravehicular activity (EVA) space suits. The emergence of NASA’s Artemis project and similar timelines founded on robotics makes understanding the inner workings of these creations important–even if it yields lunar robot domination.

Recently, the prospect of establishing a presence on Mars has yielded the development of several high-tech machines seen primarily on the moon–a precursor to those which may be implemented on other planets. Encompassed in the coming-of-age Artemis project led by NASA is the establishment of the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER), which aims to quantify water presence in extra-planetary regions. This robot can autonomously determine if water is feasible for humans on the moon, thereby promoting the eventual human lunar landing in 2024. In addition, the first Mexican space mission, featuring the COLMENA rovers, aims to study the presence of lunar dust, a pressing issue in human lunar exploration. Through a series of micro-rovers probing the surface, we on Earth can gain a better insight into the moon’s surface and methods of dust mitigation. Similarly, the Lunar Vertex mission, headed by Johns Hopkins University, objects to identify the true origins and principles of lunar swirls, which are cloud-like patterns seen throughout the moon’s surface. With new methods of autonomous lunar probing, these robots can certainly be applied to future missions aiming at Mars and other planets as well–providing aerospace engineers and astronauts alike with the ease of long-distance, economical control.

Artemis’ several stages–which are the first to render humans on the moon since the 1960s–seem as though the goal is to inaugurate annual visits to the moon that parallel a recent promotion of lunar tourism. However, the goal of the Artemis project is quite the opposite–aiming to apply recent technologies and strategies to make human lunar visits obsolete. Humans not only require an abundance of resources, but also are limited in terms of lunar probing area (due to extreme temperatures and harsh conditions). Conversely, robots offer the ability to use cameras and unique transportation methods in searching for specific materials or planetary landmarks, in addition to ground sample collection. Robots have the potential to explore planets previously unconsidered by humans, including Jupiter and Mars, without the fear of exploring the unknown (or infesting the planets with bacteria). Ultimately, the feat of sending humans to space without a dire clause is often unjustifiable–both economically and practically–for large corporations. Moreover, rovers and machines currently seen on the moon are proving to be capable of both efficient movement and scientific analysis, even when managed from Earth. Incorporating these up-and-coming robotic developments is possible in an extracurricular sense as well; and we know some contemporary robotics research–in a spatial sense.

In this episode of “Let’s Go to Space: BLUESKY Learning,” Episode 87: Robots and Emulators and CubeSats, OH MY!, we’re joined with Maxwell L. Friedman, a student at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, who is currently pioneering the Acquire, Analyze, and Apply Sat (A3Sat) project. Max is studying Robotic Engineering, and certainly applies his passion to extracurricular projects (including our AMARIS Rover) for a positive cause. Maxwell truly embodies how robotics and aerospace go hand-in-hand in producing revolutionary developments. Learn more about Maxwell L. Friedman or visit our other weekly podcasts to hear from other speakers, by clicking the link above. Also make sure to check out our website to learn more about becoming a member of the Aerospace and Innovation Academy, where you can join us in our quest to go to space.

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