The overall challenge of this strategic research cluster (SRC) is to enable major advances in space robotic technologies for future on-orbit missions (robotics and proximity rendezvous) and the exploration of the surfaces of the other bodies in our solar system.
The first activities in the SRC have addressed designing, manufacturing and testing of reliable and high performance common robotic building blocks for operation in space environments (orbital and/or planetary) which will be used for the activities subject to this call. The specific challenge is now to integrate the previously prepared common building blocks into demonstrators on ground, towards applications of space robotics in the field of orbital and planetary use. These robotics applications address not only the future needs of exploration and exploitation of space but also potential spin-off and spill-over effects to other areas of robotic activity on Earth, such as automotive, mining, construction, nuclear, or underwater.
Each proposal shall address only one of the following sub-topics:
a) Orbital Support Services: demonstrate the techniques needed to offer a commercial service to operational satellites. This shall as minimum address robotic deployment and refuelling of satellites in orbit. By means of a general purpose robotic arm, a servicing satellite must be capable to demonstrate release, grasping, berthing and manipulation of a target satellite including services such as refuelling.
b) Robotised assembly of large modular orbital structures: integrate a robot system and a set of functional modules that can assemble a large structure (such as a large reflector) otherwise not feasible with a single launch.
c) Robotised reconfiguration of satellites: develop a satellite-mounted robot system and its related implements that can modify the functionality of a satellite by adding/replacing modules available on-board or provided by another servicing satellite.
d) Autonomous decision making: integrate a rover system with long traverse capabilities (kilometres a day) managing independently the decisions required to reduce risks and seize opportunities. Such a rover system will be required to travel independently from a starting point (e.g. a lander) towards an end point (say a cache of sample), perform independent opportunistic science on the way and return to the lander with the acquired soil sample.
e) Exploring robot-robot interaction. Proposals could address one of the following two scenarios. Advanced mobility: a suite of robots endowed with diverse mobility that can cooperate autonomously in the exploration of very hard-to-reach planetary areas. This team of robots will be entrusted to undertake multiple descents and ascents into a crater/gully performing coordinated mapping and science. Robotised construction: a team of specialised robots with multiple robotic arms and end-effectors that, through a minimum of drilling, excavating and manipulating, can cooperatively put together a future planetary base/ISRU plant.
Proposals shall build on the results of the five projects of the 2016 call developing common building blocks of the Robotics SRC and shall therefore describe how this is done. A guidance document is published together with this work programme.
The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of between EUR 3 and 4 million for sub-topics a) to c) and EUR 2 and 3 million for sub-topics d) to e) would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.
Space robotics technologies developed under this topic are expected to increase the performance of space missions in a cost effective manner. Synergies with terrestrial robotics would increase the sustainability of the European space sector at large.
Additionally, for the orbital track (sub-topics a, b and c):
- Enable multiple business cases not possible with current monolithic satellite systems
- Foster rapid development and production on demand to reduce cost and time
- Setting technology standards for commercialisation of space (interfaces, building blocks etc.)
Additionally, for the planetary track (sub-topics d and e):
- Improve yield of planetary missions by providing 10x more science
- Allow estimation of feasibility of planetary exploitation activities
- Spin-out of space robotics technologies, e.g. autonomy, to terrestrial activities such as agriculture and mining.
- Spin-in of terrestrial activities (e.g. automated waste handling) to the space robotics sector.
Illustration Photo: Lunar Nanobot. This highly mobile, jumping Nanobot was designed by a team of space engineers challenged to develop a Moon mission that was not only technically viable but could also make a profit. Copyright Lunatix