Blog 66: The Revolution of Space Exploration
Mankind has long been fascinated by the exploration of space. With the development of technology, we have been sending spacecraft to the far limits of our solar system and beyond for many years, and we are continually coming up with innovative ways to deepen our understanding of the universe. The employment of robotics has been one of the most important technological developments in space exploration.
Due to their ability to complete jobs that are either too risky, too repetitious, or too difficult for people, robots have emerged as essential instruments in space exploration. The use of robotics in space exploration, its advantages and disadvantages, and some of the most important robots that have advanced our understanding of the cosmos will all be discussed in this article.
The Role of Robotics in Space Exploration
Robotic space exploration has been essential to our comprehension of the cosmos. They have made it feasible for us to explore places that would be too hazardous or impossible for humans to access, and they have made it possible for us to collect data and samples that would be otherwise impractical. Flybys, orbiters, and landers are the three main types of robotic missions.
Sending a spacecraft by a planet or moon during a flyby mission allows scientists to collect information about its magnetic field, atmosphere, and other features. Flybys are frequently the first step in planetary exploration since they enable researchers to acquire preliminary data without the necessity for a difficult landing or circling mission.
Spacecraft called orbiters stay in orbit around a planet or moon and collect information on its surface characteristics, chemical makeup, and atmosphere. They frequently have cameras and spectrometers to take in-depth pictures and determine the makeup of the planet or moon.
Sending spacecraft to land on a planet’s or moon’s surface allows researchers to collect samples and conduct tests. Landers are commonly fitted with robotic arms and drills to gather samples, and they can be either stationary or mobile.
The technology of robots used in space exploration
The Mars Rover is one of the most well-known space exploration robots. The purpose of Mars Rovers, which are self-driving robotic vehicles, is to investigate the Martian landscape. Sojourner, the first Mars rover, was launched in 1996 and explored Mars successfully until 1997. Since then, the Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity Mars Rovers have all been put into orbit. These rovers have cameras, drills, and other scientific tools to gather information and take pictures of the Martian surface.
Robotic arms are yet another essential piece of technology in space exploration. It is possible to move and manipulate objects in space using these arms. The Canadarm, which is used on the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station, is one of the most well-known examples of a robotic arm. The Canadarm is a highly developed robotic arm that is capable of precisely performing delicate tasks while moving heavy payloads. The Robotic Arm of the European Space Agency and the Robotic Arm of Japan are two other robotic arms used in space exploration.
Unmanned spacecraft that can function autonomously without human interference are known as autonomous spacecraft. This spacecraft can be used for many different things, including as satellite deployment and planetary exploration. For instance, the NASA Juno spacecraft is an autonomous spacecraft that is now orbiting Jupiter and gathering information about the atmosphere of the gas giant. The European Space Agency’s Gaia spacecraft and NASA’s New Horizons probe, which explored Pluto in 2015, are two other autonomous spacecraft. Gaia is now mapping the Milky Way galaxy.
A new subject called swarm robotics makes use of numerous robots to carry out tasks in unison. Swarm robotics can be utilized in space exploration for operations like asteroid mining, in which a team of robots cooperates to remove minerals from an asteroid. Another use for swarm robotics is the exploration of planets and other celestial bodies, where a group of robots can gather more data and cover more ground than a single robot.
Robots that resemble humans in both look and movement are called humanoid robots. In order to complete activities that would be challenging or impossible for humans to complete, these robots are being designed for use in space exploration. A humanoid robot created by NASA and intended for use in space is called the Robonaut. Robonaut is capable of carrying out activities including spacewalks, maintenance, and research.
Benefits of Using Robotics in Space Exploration
Robotic space exploration has a number of advantages over human exploration. The following are a few of the most important advantages:
- Cost-Effective: Launching astronauts into orbit costs a lot of money and resources. Contrarily, robotic missions are far more cost-effective because they don’t need food, life support systems, or other essentials.
- More Efficiency: Because they can operate continuously and without breaks, robots are incredibly effective at carrying out risky or monotonous jobs. More data and samples can be collected by scientists thanks to this efficiency than would be achievable through human exploration.
- Safety: It is risky for people to explore space because of its harsh circumstances. Robots can function in hazardous environments without endangering human lives.
- Longevity: Robots can function for a lot longer than people can, enabling them to explore regions for longer periods of time and acquire more information.
Challenges of Using Robotics in Space Exploration
- While there are many advantages to using robotics in space exploration, there are also a number of difficulties that must be overcome. Some of the biggest difficulties are as follows:
- Restricted Mobility: Robots frequently have a limited range of motion, which can make it challenging to traverse wide-open spaces or treacherous terrain.
- Complexity: Due to the complexity of space missions, highly advanced robots with the ability to complete difficult tasks autonomously are required.
- Communications: Due to the distance and difficulties of sending signals via space, it might be challenging for robots operating in space to communicate with Earth.
- Repair and Maintenance: Robots working in space must be extremely dependable because it may not be possible to do repairs or maintenance.
Robotic Missions in Space Exploration
Many robotic missions have improved our understanding of the universe over the years. Some of the more important missions are listed below:
- Perseverance Rover: NASA’s Perseverance Rover landed on Mars in February 2021 in order to research the planet’s geology, look for evidence of prehistoric microbial life, and become ready for human exploration. A group of engineers and scientists on Earth remotely control the rover, which is furnished with a variety of research tools.
- NASA’s Ingenuity Helicopter performed the first powered, controlled flight on an alien planet in April 2021. The Perseverance Rover transported the helicopter to Mars, where it is now being utilized to show that airborne exploration of the planet is feasible.
- Chang’e-5: China’s Chang’e-5 mission successfully returned moon samples in December 2020. The mission, which used a combination of robotic landers and a sample-return vehicle, was the first lunar sample return since the 1970s.
- OSIRIS-REx: The NASA OSIRIS-REx mission collected a sample from the asteroid Bennu in October 2020. The mission, which makes use of a number of robotic tools and systems, aims to investigate the composition and evolution of the asteroid.
- Hayabusa2: Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft arrived to Earth in December 2020 carrying samples from the asteroid Ryugu. A sample-return capsule and robotic rovers were both used in the expedition.