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Human Exploration Telerobotics Project Demonstrates Remote Operation of “Smart Spheres” on Space Station

The Human Exploration Telerobotics (HET) project demonstrated remote operation of the “smart Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage, Reorient Experimental Satellites” (smart SPHERES) onboard the International Space Station (ISS) on December 12, 2012. The SPHERES are basketball-sized free-flying satellites that have been onboard ISS since 2006. Intelligent Robotics Group (IRG) engineers in the ISS Mission Control Center (MCC) at Johnson Space Center (JSC) and the Multi-Mission Operations Center (MMOC) at Ames Research Center remotely operated the smart SPHERES to perform mobile sensor tasks in the Kibo laboratory module of ISS. The demonstration showed how free-flying robots can perform surveys for environmental monitoring, inspection, and other routine housekeeping tasks remotely.

The test fully completed all test objectives and met all success criteria, demonstrating nine first-ever achievements:

  • First teleoperation of an Intra-Vehicular Activity (IVA) free-flyer from the ISS MCC
  • First supervisory control of an IVA free-flyer from the ISS MCC
  • First use of the Robot Application Programming Interface Delegate (RAPID) to control a robot in space
  • First demonstration of a robot performing an IVA survey
  • First use of ISS OpsLAN Wi-Fi for robotics
  • First use of Disruption Tolerant Networking (DTN) for ISS robotics
  • First robotics engineer to control a robot on ISS from the ISS MCC
  • First use of a Custom Off-The-Shelf (COTS) smartphone (Nexus S) as an embedded controller in space
  • First operation of SPHERES by a SPHERES payload (connected via expansion port)

Terry Fong, HET Project Manager, was featured in a NASA Television interview on ISS Update.

BACKGROUND: The Human Exploration Telerobotics (HET) project demonstrates how telerobotics – robots remotely operated by astronauts or ground controllers – can be used to perform a variety of routine, highly repetitive, dangerous, or long-duration tasks. The primary goal of HET is to improve NASA’s understanding of the requirements, benefits, limitations, costs, and risks of integrating telerobotics into future deep-space exploration missions.

The Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage, Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) were originally developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) through Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) funding. The HET project added an Android smartphone (Google Nexus S), as well as robotics software, to transform the SPHERES into “smart SPHERES” – free-flying telerobots equipped with cameras, accelerometers, wireless, and high-performance embedded computing.

PROGRAM FUNDING: Technology Demonstrations Missions (TDM), Space Technology Program (STP), NASA Office of the Chief Technologist (OCT) TEAM: Maria Bualat, Terry Fong, Young-Wook Jung (KAIST), Yun-kyung Kim (KAIST), Linda Kobayashi, Mark Micire, Ted Morse, Chris Provencher, Ernie Smith, Vinh To, Jay Torres (JPL), Hans Utz, and DW Wheeler

COLLABORATORS: Jonathan Barlow, Jose Benavides, Jose Cortez, Ali Guarneros, Darryl Levasseur, Andres Martinez, David Mittman (JPL), Steve Ormsby, and Adam Schlesinger (JSC)

Contact: Terry Fong

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Human Exploration Telerobotics Project Demonstrates Remote Operation of “Smart Spheres” on Space Station
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