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Human Exploration Telerobotics Project Conducts Smart SPHERES Zero-G Testing on a Parabolic Flight
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Human Exploration Telerobotics Project Conducts Smart SPHERES Zero-G Testing on a Parabolic Flight

The Smart Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage, and Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) team conducted zero-g testing of a new Android smartphone connected to SPHERES on a parabolic flight out of Ellington Field, Texas. The smartphone (Google Project Tango) has an infrared projector for 3D mapping and a wide-angle camera for feature tracking that enables it to perform vision-based navigation. The zero-g testing focused on vision-based navigation that will allow free-flying SPHERES to navigate anywhere within the International Space Station (ISS). Prior to the parabolic flight, the smartphone vision-based navigation had only been performed in one-g. Parabolic flight testing reduces risk and allows the Human Exploration Telerobotics (HET) project to fine tune sensor performance in zero-g before the final ISS demonstration. The flight test campaign consisted of four days of flights, with each flight executing forty parabolas. Each parabola produces 10-15 seconds of weightlessness.

BACKGROUND: The Human Exploration Telerobotics 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, and Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) were originally developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) through the 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. The HET project is now incorporating a Google Project Tango smartphone.

TEAM: Jonathan Barlow, Terry Fong, Jason Lum, Zach Moratto, Chris Provencher, Vinh To, and DW Wheeler

NASA PROGRAM FUNDING: Technology Demonstration Missions (TDM) program, Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD)

Contact: Chris Provencher

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