Floating 'droids' to roam space corridors of the future
Prototype of the Personal Satellite Assistant. Click image for technical details.
January 12, 2000
Web posted at: 9:21 a.m. EST (1421 GMT)
MOFFETT FIELD, California (CNN) -- Astronauts in the near future could have
extra eyes, ears and noses, thanks to hovering mini-robots designed to take
care of an assortment of routine and dangerous chores.
| MESSAGE BOARD|
Scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center are working on a prototype of the
Personal Satellite Assistant, a small orb that will monitor laboratories and
living quarters in space shuttles and the International Space Station.
Animation: The Personal Satellite Assistant in action
3.8 MB / 37 sec. / 240x180
The PSA, about the size of a softball, will move
independently in the weightless confines of orbiting space
vehicles, serving as an extra eye, ear and nose for space
crews and ground teams.
The PSA will be equipped with a variety of sensors to check
environmental conditions in a space vehicle such as the
temperature, air pressure and the amount of oxygen, carbon
dioxide and bacterial growth.
The robot will be controlled in several ways. "When the crew
is interacting with it, they will give it directions or
goals, and the PSA will execute those commands," said Yuri
Gawdiak, principal researcher for the project at the Ames
center in Moffett Field, California.
"It also has a wireless network connection to the spacecraft
so it can get commands from scientists on the ground and
also from the spacecraft system. So if the spacecraft itself
says it has a pressure leak, it can send a PSA out first to
validate that that is indeed going on," he said.
Robot can video conference, float on its own
The PSAs would float through the corridors of the International Space Station under their own micro-propulsion
The robot will have a camera for video conferencing,
navigation sensors, wireless network connections, and its own
propulsion system for moving around the space station.
"Our research objective is to test intelligent autonomous
systems that use advanced sensors and monitoring technologies
for supporting current and future spacecraft operations,"
The PSA is based on commercial off-the-shelf technology. For
example, industrial tools already in use to sense atmospheric
pressure, gas and temperature are being used to develop the
The robot's compact design will enable it to operate in the
cramped confines of space shuttles and the International
Space Station. Since it will operate on its own, the
astronauts will be free to perform other tasks.
The PSA represents the next generation of advanced
Information Technologies that follows a wireless network
experiment developed at NASA Ames in 1995 for the
International Space Station, according to NASA.
Wireless computing worked on shuttle, Mir
As the astronauts onboard Atlantis discovered during a 1996 mission to Mir, wireless computer networks work well in a space
environment. The computers' radio signals did not
interfere with other electronic equipment on either the space shuttle or the Russian Mir space station.
Based on the success of that experiment, the crew recommended
handheld wireless portable data assistants that could support
their mission operations onboard the International Space
The Ames research scientists took their recommendation
several steps further by turning the handheld data
assistants into autonomous, intelligent robots.
This design approach has several key advantages, according to
NASA. Besides data assistant capabilities to the onboard
crew, payload scientists and mission controllers on the
ground, the PSA would be able to remotely monitor their
payloads, especially when onboard crewmembers are not
PSAs to handle tasks both risky and mundane
Another benefit of the design would be the ability to have
several PSAs conduct collaborative trouble-shooting
activities. In order to accomplish a complicated task, such
as finding a pressure leak, three or more PSAs could fly in
formation to zero in on the location.
The PSA is also being designed to handle more ordinary
chores, like environmental sensor checks and inventory
monitoring, to allow the crew to focus on research
NASA scientists hope that eventually the PSA can support
remote diagnostic operations and substitute, as needed, for
nonfunctioning spacecraft sensors.
"We hope to launch a Personal Satellite Assistant in about
two years aboard a space shuttle and in about three years
aboard the International Space Station," Gawdiak said. "This
will be an evolving prototype to test and evaluate different
hardware, software and sensor suites to help astronauts,
ground crews and payload scientists operate more efficiently
Shuttle may be launched to repair faltering space station
January 5, 2000
Personal Satelite Assistant
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.