Developing and testing technologies for planetary surface exploration and habitation

David L. Akin, Srikanth Saripalli, Massimiliano Di Capua

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

1 Scopus citations


Despite recent uncertainties about NASAs next destination in space, there is still a strong interest in enabling extended human exploration of the Moon and Mars. While we do have the experience of Apollo, more than a half-century of technology advances will separate Apollo from the earliest possible resumption of lunar exploration. In addition, future human exploration missions will entail much longer surface stays than Apollo, requiring more attention to habitation issues. For these reasons, there is a real need to investigate the potential roles of advanced technologies in both surface exploration and planetary habitation. This paper reports on recent developments in these areas at the University of Maryland (UMd) Space Systems Laboratory (SSL). Supported by a number of sponsors via small grants, including significant leveraging of student academic competitions, the SSL has been able to create and support an integrated vision of future extended exploration concepts for planetary surface operations, including collaborative exploration between space-suited humans and various robotic vehicles, concepts for robotic crew support, and instantiations of habitat designs for extended duration missions. In collaboration with the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State Uni- versity, the University of Maryland has developed RAVEN, an astronaut assistance rover for planetary surface exploration. RAVEN is semi-autonomous, capable of following the crew through complex terrain and responding to discrete, voice, and gestural commands. RAVEN is equipped with a dexterous manipulator to allow robotic sampling, either human- directed in a collaborative exploration scenario or under remote commanCapuang for pure robotic operations. In conjunction with SSL-developed space suit simulators, this system has been tested in field trials at geologically interesting locations in Arizona. This program, currently supported by the NASA Science Mission Directorate, will involve further field tests on an annual basis. The SSL is also currently developing RHEA, a small scouting robot for field testing. RHEA is a small (50-kg) rover carrying video cameras and a simple sampling arm, and is designed to operate under supervisory control via a low-bandwidth command link to a remote operator. An extended exploration mission could deploy a number of RHEA-class robots to survey potential exploration areas to allow prioritization of sortie targets, either based solely on visual surveys, or in response to more detailed analysis of samples collected and returned to the base site for manual analysis. RHEA will also be incorporated into the on-going series of Arizona field trials to investigate the use of multiple heterogeneous robotic systems to better categorize and survey science sites, and to provide maximum coverage of human exploration activities. In 2009, the SSL developed a detailed design for a minimum functional lunar habitat for the NASA Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. This activity culminated in the fabrication and testing of a full-scale mockup of the lunar habitat, which was designed to support a crew of four for thirty-day (nominal) and sixty-day (contingency) missions. This habitat is now used for simulations of lunar crew operations, including remote operation of robotic systems such as those described above, over extended periods of time. The SSL recently completed the design, fabrication, and testing of an in atable habitat for lunar applications. Based on a university design competition sponsored by NASA, the X-Hab is designed to integrate to the NASA Habitat Demonstration Unit (HDU) used for field operations in the NASA Desert Research and Technology Studies (RATS) annual tests. The in atable X-Hab unit is a lightweight habitation unit mounted to the top of the HDU, which is currently configured as a dedicated laboratory module. X-Hab will provide private living quarters for each of the four exploration crew, along with integrated utilities and provisions for future enhancements such as food service systems and a waste collection compartment. For the integrated test activities forming the focus of this paper, X-Hab will support remote control capabilities for both RAVEN and RHEA, as well as video and voice systems for interesting with space-suited subjects conducting the field trials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAIAA SPACE Conference and Exposition 2011
StatePublished - Dec 1 2011
EventAIAA SPACE Conference and Exposition 2011 - Long Beach, CA, United States
Duration: Sep 27 2011Sep 29 2011

Publication series

NameAIAA SPACE Conference and Exposition 2011


OtherAIAA SPACE Conference and Exposition 2011
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityLong Beach, CA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Aerospace Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Developing and testing technologies for planetary surface exploration and habitation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this