Flying robotic SPHERES to help astronauts and ground control extend reach of missions via tele-operations

03/12/2014 - 00:00

By Buddy Nelson -

In a breakthrough that will help make it possible for astronauts and robots to work together in deep space, researchers at the Lockheed Martin [NYSE: LMT] Advanced Technology Center (ATC), working with NASA astronauts aboard the International Space Station, have demonstrated coordinated control of robots in space by astronauts in space and operators on the ground. The breakthrough is the first-ever demonstration of such collaborative tele-operations. The maneuvers create new opportunities to extend the reach of human and robotic missions in Earth orbit and beyond.

Astronaut Karen Nyberg and ATC engineer Humberto Ormeno used an ATC-developed, 3-D user interface to command NASA’s Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Re-orient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) robots on the space station. Inside the space station, the robots (each about the size of a soccer ball) were commanded in “follow-the-leader” exercises and simulated approach-and-docking maneuvers, like those required for in-space assembly of large space structures and asteroid exploration. There is also flexibility within the system, meaning automated control of one or more robots can be combined with manual control of another.