The goal of project MOONWALK is to develop and test technologies and training procedures for future human missions to Moon and Mars. MOONWALK will focus on astronaut-robot cooperation applied to Extra-Vehicular Activities (EVA) on planetary surfaces.
Project MOONWALK consortium comprises seven partners from six EU member states and one associated country:
- DFKI Robotics Innovation Center in Germany (Project Coordination),
- COMEX in France (Technical Coordination),
- EADS in Great Britain,
- LIQUIFER Systems Group (LSG) in Austria,
- Space Application Services (SAS) in Belgium,
- NTNU Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Space in Norway, and
- Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial (INTA) in Spain.
MOONWALK is a 3-year cooperative R&D project funded by the European Commission under the “space activity” theme of the 7th Framework Programme. The project started in September 2013 and will conclude in August of 2016.
The resurgence of human missions to Moon and Mars on future planetary exploration plans of leading space faring nations has put the spotlight back on the need for earth-analogue simulations of planetary exploration missions. Earth-analogue simulations are typically simplified and abstracted representations of a more intricate real-world system. The complexity and degree of reality being represented varies depending on the goal and nature of the simulation as well as budgetary and time constraints.
The role of earth-analogue simulations is to create facsimiles that are consistent with the proposed planetary mission. These simulations must offer enough of the proposed mission to achieve the necessary level of reality, and must also be presented in a form that is acceptable to the various actors involved.
Earth-analogue simulations serve as tools to, among others things
- Test new hardware and software,
- Study human behavior,
- Conduct habitability and human factors research,
- Develop procedures and protocols,
- Devise experiments for mission science (e.g. astrobiology, geology),
- Develop physiological and psychological countermeasures in preparation for real missions in the future.
Further, an analogue is a physical location that represents, in some specific way, a particular environment of interest. An analogue is a place where one can conduct the simulations. In the case of project MOONWALK, the underwater site at the Marseilles Space Analogue site will serve as a Moon mission analogue, while the desert in Rio Tinto in Spain will be the Mars mission analogue. These simulations will offer engineers, designers and planners the opportunity to evaluate technologies and training techniques for future human missions to Moon and Mars in an artificially created low-risk setting. The focus will be the development and testing of astronaut-robot cooperation techniques as it applies to extra-terrestrial soil sampling and exobiology activities.
Astronauts are limited in their movements due to the pressurized spacesuit and the reduced gravity on the planetary surface. This makes it difficult to handle tools and to operate complex machines like robots. MOONWALK will simulate a planetary exploration mission in which one or several astronauts are helped by a mobile robotic device. The project will develop new interfaces for man (astronaut) – machine interaction and test them in the two earth-analogue simulation sites.