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White paper reveals The Future of Space Robotics and Autonomous Systems

The new white paper led by Professor Yang Gao on behalf of the UK-RAS Network, presents the technical roadmap of space RAS for the coming decades where space robots are hoped to be able to offer a range of biomimetic mobility (such as fly, climb, swim, walk, assemble, etc) as well as possess human-like intelligence.

Autonomous robots capable of walking, swimming and climbing, will replicate insects, birds, animals and even humans on future missions of space exploration within decades, according to a new UK-RAS Network white paper led by Professor Yang Gao, Head of STAR Lab at the University of Surrey.

Space Robotics and Autonomous Systems: Widening the horizon of space exploration also reveals that the rapid evolution of technologies powering space RAS will have beneficial applications in sectors such as healthcare, mining and agriculture.

Lead author Professor Yang Gao, Head of STAR Lab at the University of Surrey’s Space Centre explained, “Since the 1990s, a new generation of planetary exploration has travelled further into the solar system and is required to become increasingly more convincing as a human proxy in space. This will lead to the development of robotic explorers and assistants that can carry out such complex tasks that they could tangibly replace humans in space or assist astronauts on a mission."

Such skills include the ability for space robotics to be equipped with new sensing techniques in order to acquire 3D perception, and to have the ability to climb, swim, dig, fly, sail, navigate and dock spacecraft without humans, as well as to interact with humans.

European Space Agency (ESA) Astronaut Roberto Vittori who launched the white paper, said: "Space robotics is central to the future of space exploration. The importance of this area of science cannot be understated, something I can personally attest to having been responsible for the space shuttle’s robotic arm in the instillation of a six-tonne cosmic ray detector to the International Space Station. This Space Robotics white paper will be instrumental in providing a clear vision as we continue to push new boundaries in both man and unmanned spaceflight.".

The University of Surrey is at the forefront of research in this area. Part of Surrey Space Centre (SSC), the Surrey Technology for Autonomous Systems and Robotics (STAR) Lab specialises in developing contemporary robotics solutions and autonomous systems that monitor and service spacecraft, remove space debris and explore new space frontiers and extra-terrestrial surfaces. Examples include robotic arms capable of grabbing space debris and consigning it to a recycling bin, and ideas to ‘modularise’ spacecraft so that individual subsystem modules can be replaced if they fail. These are all tasks which would be extremely dangerous and hugely expensive if performed by human astronauts without using robots.

Click here to download the white paper.

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