Manipulation Technology TeleRobotics and Autonomous Systems

Manipulation is defined as making an intentional change in the environment. Positioning sensors, handling objects, digging, assembling, grappling, berthing, deploying, sampling, bending, and even positioning the crew on the end of long arms are tasks considered to be forms of manipulation. Arms, cables, fingers, scoops, and combinations of multiple limbs are embodiments of manipulators. Here we look ahead to missions’ requirements and chart the evolution of these capabilities that will be needed for space missions. Manipulation applications for human missions can be found in Technology Area 7 as powered exoskeletons, or payload offloading devices that exceed human strength alone.

Sample Handling- The state of the art is found in the MSL arm, Phoenix arm, MER arm, Sojourner arm, and Viking. Future needs include handling segmented samples (cores, rocks) rather than scoop full of soil, loading samples into onboard devices, loading samples into containers, sorting samples, and cutting samples.

Grappling- The state art is got in the SRMS, MFD, ETS-VII, SSRMS, Orbital Express, and SPDM. Near term advances will be seen in the NASA Robonaut 2 mission. Challenges that
will need to be overcome include grappling with a dead spacecraft, grappling a natural object like an asteroid, grappling in deep space, and assembly of a multi-stack spacecraft.

Eye-Hand Coordination- The state of the art is placement of MER instruments on rocks, Orbital Express refueling, SPDM ORU handling and Phoenix digging. Challenges to be overcome include working with natural objects in micro gravity (asteroids), operation in poor lighting, calibration methods, and combination of vision and touch.

EVA positioning- The EVA community has come to rely on the use of large robot foot restraints
versus having crew climb. The state of the art is found in the SRMS and SSRMS. These arms were originally designed for handling inert payloads, and no controls were developed for control
by the crew on the arm. Challenges to be overcome involve letting crew position themselves without multiple IV crew helping, safety issues, and operation of these arms far from Earth support.

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