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Robotic Recon Experiment at Black Point Lava Flow

From June 14-27, the Intelligent Robotics Group (IRG) will use a robot to scout portions of the Black Point Lava Flow in northern Arizona. The robot, called K10, will be remotely operated from the NASA Lunar Science Institute at NASA Ames. The science data acquired with K10 will help in planning geology field work that a two-person crew will perform in September 2009 using the Johnson Space Center (JSC) Lunar Electric Rover and simulated extra-vehicular activity (EVA) suits.

The goal of this “robotic recon experiment” is to improve NASA’s understanding of how advance robot scouting can enhance mission planning and increase science return. To scout Black Point Lava Flow, K10 is equipped with multiple cameras, including a GigaPan, and 3D scanning laser that will provide extremely high-resolution images and measurements of terrain and surface features.

A team consisting of IRG engineers, planetary scientists, and flight controllers from JSC’s Mission Operations Directorate will remotely operate K10 from the NASA Lunar Science Institute. Interactive geo-spatial user interfaces and real-time performance monitoring systems will be used to command K10 and analyze science data. A variety of metrics will be used to assess the quantitative impact of robotic recon on planning, operations, and crew activity.

For more information about the robotic recon experiment, visit

BACKGROUND: The human return to the Moon in 2020 offers new opportunities to advance the scientific exploration of the lunar surface. When the new exploration campaign begins, people will initially be on the Moon only for short periods of time. Between human missions, however, robots will be available to perform surface operations. A central challenge, therefore, is to understand how robots can improve the productivity and science return of human missions. One way to do this may be robotic recon.

Robotic recon can potentially improve human exploration of the Moon in three ways: (1) it can increase scientific understanding so that better plans can be made; (2) it can reduce operational risk by evaluating routes and terrain hazards; and (3) it can improve crew productivity by enabling activities to be planned in detail. This field test will help NASA better understand and evaluate these improvements.

  • GROUND CONTROL: Frank Jurgens, Rob Landis, Tim Kennedy, Tod Milam, Melissa Rice, Debbie Shreckenghost
  • SCIENCE TEAM: Mary Sue Bell, Kip Hodges, Jose Hurtado, David Kring, Marwan Hussein, Nina Lanza, Pascal Lee, Ann Ollila, Jim Rice, Art Snoke, Robert Stewart, Jeff Tripp, Mike Wyatt, Aileen Yingst, Kelsey Young
  • COMMUNICATIONS: Jim Dumoulin, Mike Miller
  • OUTREACH AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Doris Daou, Estelle Dodson, Rachel Prucey, Delia Santiago, Ed Schilling, Teague Soderman
  • COLLABORATORS: NASA Lunar Science Institute; NASA JSC; Optech, Inc.; SPAWAR; TRACLabs, Inc

NASA PROGRAM FUNDING: Human-Robotic Systems (Exploration Technology Development Program) and Desert RATS (Exploration Systems Mission Directorate Analogs Program)

Contact: Terry Fong


From June 14-27, 2009, NASA will use a robot to scout portions of the Black Point Lava Flow in northern Arizona. The K10 robot will be remotely operated from the NASA Lunar Science Institute located at the NASA Ames Research Center (Moffett Field, California). The data from “robotic recon” will be used to plan field work, which will be subsequently carried out by astronauts driving in the Lunar Electric Rover.

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