Press Release


Astronaut meets robot – European researchers develop training techniques for planetary missions

Bremen, October 2nd 2013

How will astronauts train on Earth in the most realistic manner missions to far-distant planets? How can robots assist them in space? Answers to these questions will be developed by a team of researchers under the leadership of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) in the just starting EU-project „MOONWALK“. The objective of this project is the development and test of future technologies for human missions to the Moon or Mars. MOONWALK will focus on robot-astronaut cooperation, like it might be relevant for soil sampling activities. Astronauts are limited in their movements due to the pressurized spacesuit and the reduced gravity on the surface. Mission simulations are therefore planned underwater at the Marseilles Space Analogue site and in the desert of the Spanish Rio Tinto region.

The program is financed over three years with 3.1 million Euros by the European Commission in the frame of the 7th Framework Programme in the SPACE activity. Seven partner organizations will bring in their expertise: The DFKI Robotics Innovation Center in Bremen (Project Coordinator), COMEX in France (technical coordination), EADS in Great Britain, LIQUIFER Systems Group in Austria, Space Application Services in Belgium, NTNU Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Space in Norway and the Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial (INTA) in Spain.

In simulations of Moon of Mars missions on Earth it is a huge challenge to recreate operational constraints such as the reduced gravity or the communication delay between the astronauts and mission control on Earth. Two analogue simulations are planned in MOONWALK to simulate some of the conditions that astronauts will encounter during future spacewalks: Trials offshore the coast of the French city Marseille where extravehicular activities (EVA) on the lunar surface will be performed and in the Spanish desert in Rio Tinto where operations are focusing on exobiological sampling and sampling procedures. These can help to prepare future manned missions to planet Mars. The astronauts will wear a simulation spacesuit that recreates the properties of a real pressurized spacesuit. Communication and cooperation between the astronauts and a robotic helper will be tested and trained in both scenarios. Also possibilities are under discussion to work in cooperation with NASA for future joint mission simulations.

The project MOONWALK is financed by the EC Program SPA.2013.2.1-02 under the contract number 607346.

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Images and photographs
Photographs are available for download. These can be usedby mentioning “COMEX”.

Download MOONWALK Photographs.

Figure titles:

Series 1 shows how underwater simulations of space missions could look like in MOONWALK. Shown is the training of an EVA to the surface of an asteroid where the astronaut has to leave the spacecraft to perform sampling activities on the surface in microgravity. The tests were performed at the Marseille subsea analogue site in November 2012.

Series 2 shows a simulation scenario how it is planned in MOONWALK. An astronaut is training sampling of soil and the erection of an (European) flag in simulated lunar gravity under water. This simulation, called APOLLO XI UNDER THE SEA took place in Marseille in September 2013.

Press Contact:
DFKI Bremen
Team Unternehmenskommunikation
Daniela Menzel
Robert-Hooke-Straße 5
28359 Bremen, Germany