The ability to perform autonomous rendezvous and safe proximity operations and docking/grappling is central to the future of mission concepts for satellite servicing, Mars sample returns, active debris removal scenarios, and other cooperative space activities. Major challenges include improving the robustness of the rendezvous and capture process to ensure successful capture despite wide variations in lighting, target characteristics, and relative motion.
2. Maneuvering: Enable robotic systems to maneuver in a wide range of NASA-relevant environmental, gravitational, and surface and subsurface conditions.
Current crewed and robotic rovers cannot access extreme lunar or martian terrain, eliminating the possibility of robotic access and requiring humans to park and travel on foot in suits. Extreme terrain mobility would allow robotic rovers access to more scientifically interesting samples. In microgravity, locomotion techniques on or near asteroids and comets are undeveloped and untested. Challenges include developing robotics to travel into these otherwise denied areas, developing techniques to grapple and anchor with asteroids and non-cooperative objects, or building crew mobility systems to move humans into these challenging locations.
3. In Situ Analysis and Sample Return: Develop subsurface sampling and analysis exploration technologies to support in situ and sample return science missions.
A top astrobiological goal and a fundamental NASA exploration driver is the search for life or signs of previous life in our solar system, and NASA scientists and engineers have been told to “follow the water.” A significant planetary science driver exists to obtain unaltered samples (with volatiles intact) for either in situ analysis, or return to Earth from planetary bodies both large and small. These pristine samples are found subsurface and are (mostly) acquired with robotic drilling devices. Due to the autonomy demands of robotic drilling/sampling along with very low mass and power constraints, terrestrial drilling technologies (including the National Science Foundation and U.S. Army ice drilling efforts) have limited applicability. Robotic planetary drilling and sample handling is a new and different capability.
4. Hazard Avoidance: Develop the capabilities to enable mobile robotic systems to autonomously and verifiably navigate and avoid hazards.
Human drivers have a remarkable ability to perceive terrain hazards at long range, but robotic systems lag behind due to the large computational throughput requirements needed to quickly assess subtle terrain geometric and non-geometric properties fast enough to maintain speeds near the vehicle limits.
5. Time-Delayed Human-Robotic Interactions: Achieve more effective and safe human interaction with robotic systems (whether in proximity or remotely) that accommodate any time-delay effects.
More effective and safe human interaction with robotic systems has a number of different focuses that range from the potential dangers of proxemic interactions to remote supervision with or without time delays. Proxemic interactions require that the robotic systems can safely operate and communicate their actions and intent to the humans working in close proximity, either in the case of peer-based interaction or independent actions. Similarly, humans interacting with robotic systems in close proximity must be able to provide direction and instruction to the robotic systems.
Remote interaction with robotic systems do not pose the same immediate potential level of danger to humans as close proximity interactions; however, it is often significantly more difficult for a remote human to fully understand the context of the environment in which the robotic system functions and the status of the system. This lack of understanding can be further complicated by the effects of communication time delays, which can range from fractions of a second to significant periods of time. An improper level of understanding often results in incorrect