Field analogue simulations investigating EVA/robotic collaboration in lunar exploration

David L. Akin, Srikanth Saripalli, Massimiliano Di Capua, Kevin Davis, Kip Hodges, Kelsey Young

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

9 Scopus citations


By the time that human missions to the moon resume, a half century or more will have passed since the last Apollo missions. Technologies only dreamed of in the days of Apollo will be available to assist, augment, and supplement human explorers on the moon and Mars. However, many of the current conceptualizations of human planetary surface exploration seem to start where Apollo left off, with robotic systems largely relegated to transport functions or operations independent of the human explorers. Under support from the NASA Lunar Advanced Science and Exploration Research (LASER) program, the University of Maryland (UMd) and Arizona State University (ASU) have teamed up in a four-year effort to investigate advanced collaborations between spacesuited humans and robots for lunar exploration. This investigation is focused on a series of annual field trials in the Arizona desert, wherein planetary geologists will serve as simulated astronauts using advanced space suit simulators and dexterous manipulator-equipped rovers created by the UMd/ASU team. In an homage to the long-standing NASA Desert Research and Technology Studies (RATS) test series, this stand-alone research investigation has been named the Desert Field Lessons in Engineering And Science, or Desert FLEAS. This paper covers the concept behind the Desert FLEAS research, and details the evolutionary set of annual field trials with increasing space suit and robotic system capabilities. In an early test series in September 2010, the UMd MX-A space suit simulator was paired with the Robotic Assist Vehicle for Extravehicular Navigation (RAVEN) astronaut assistance rover developed by the combined senior capstone design classes of the UMd Aerospace Engineering department and the ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration. In this proof-of-concept test, the MX-A suit was equipped with head-mounted displays with head-tracking sensors for hands-free gestural interface to an information data base, along with several approaches for EVA control of the RAVEN driving functions. These tests, performed on the ASU campus and in conjunction with the 2010 NASA Desert RATS tests at the Black Point Lava Flow, Arizona, included EVA-directed remote sampling via the RAVEN dexterous manipulator, and human/robot paired traverses across the analogue site. In the first formal LASER test series, the UMd/ASU team spent a week performing field trials in March, 2011 at the Warford Ranch volcano field in southwestern Arizona. In daily traverses, the research team investigated the use of advanced controls and displays in the new MX-B space suit simulator to provide the scientist-wearer with access to advanced geological exploration tools, such as a hand-held microscope, via the head-mounted displays internal to the helmet. At the same time, gestural and voice commands were examined for their efficacy in directing the navigation of the robotic support vehicle. This paper reports on the results of the first two Desert FLEAS field trials in support of the LASER program, with lessons learned from these tests driving the development targets for the second year of field tests in May, 2012. Plans for future Desert FLEAS activities include the use of MX-3, an actual pressurized suit as compared to the passive simulation of the MX-A/B series of suits. In addition, subsequent years will focus on the development of advanced robotic capabilities and operator interfaces, including the deployment of a new robotic support vehicle for future analogue field trials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publication41st International Conference on Environmental Systems 2011, ICES 2011
StatePublished - Dec 1 2011
Event41st International Conference on Environmental Systems 2011, ICES 2011 - Portland, OR, United States
Duration: Jul 17 2011Jul 21 2011

Publication series

Name41st International Conference on Environmental Systems 2011, ICES 2011


Other41st International Conference on Environmental Systems 2011, ICES 2011
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityPortland, OR

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering


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