Jet Propulsion Laboratory JPL Americas Premier Space Robot Factory

The American space age began on January 31, 1958, with the launch of the first U.S. satellite, Explorer 1 an Earth-orbiting spacecraft built and controlled by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). For almost five decades, JPL has led the world in exploring the solar system with robot spacecraft. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development facility managed by the California Institute of Technology for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)....

Project Daedalus

Project Daedalus is the name given to an extensive study of interstellar space exploration conducted from 1973 to 1978 by a team of scientists and engineers under the auspices of the British Interplanetary Society. This hallmark effort examined the feasibility of performing a simple interstellar mission using only contemporary technologies and or reasonable extrapolations of imaginable near-term capabilities. In mythology, Daedulus was the grand architect of King Minos's labyrinth for the...

Space Robots in Service to Science

Robot spacecraft come in all shapes and sizes. Each space robot is usually custom-designed and carefully engineered to meet the specific needs and environmental challenges of a particular space exploration mission. For example, lander spacecraft are designed and constructed to acquire scientific data and to function in a hostile planetary surface environment. Since the complexity of space robots varies greatly, engineers and space scientists find it convenient to categorize robot spacecraft...

Stardust Mission

Stardust is the first U.S. space mission dedicated solely to the exploration of a comet and the first robotic spacecraft mission designed to return extraterrestrial material from outside the orbit of the Moon. Launched on February 7, 1999, from Cape Canaveral, the spacecraft traveled through This artist's concept shows NASA's Stardust spacecraft encountering Comet Wild 2 (circa January 2004) and collecting dust and volatile material samples in the coma of the comet. The robot spacecraft...

Introduction

Modern space robots are sophisticated machines that have visited all the major worlds of the solar system, including (soon) tiny Pluto. Robot Spacecraft examines the evolution of these fascinating, far-traveling spacecraft from the relatively unsophisticated planetary probes flown at the dawn of the Space Age to the incredibly powerful exploring machines that now allow scientists to conduct detailed, firsthand investigations of alien worlds within this solar system. Emerging out of the space...

Smarter Robots to the Red Planet

NASA's planned Phoenix Mars Scout will land in icy soils near the north polar permanent ice cap of the Red Planet and explore the history of water in these soils and any associated rocks. This sophisticated space robot serves as NASA's first exploration of a potential modern habitat on Mars and opens the door to a renewed search for carbon-bearing compounds, last attempted with the Viking 1 and 2 lander spacecraft missions in the 1970s. The Phoenix spacecraft is currently in development and...

Ulysses Spacecraft

The Ulysses mission is an international space robot designed to study the poles of the Sun and the interstellar environment above and below these solar poles. The Ulysses spacecraft is named for the legendary Greek hero in Homer's epic saga of the Trojan War who wandered into many previously unexplored areas on his return home. The spacecraft's mission is a survey mission designed to examine the properties of the solar wind the NASA's Pioneer Venus Multiprobe spacecraft is lifted for final...

General Classes of Scientific Spacecraft

Planetary Thermal Analysis

Scientific space robots include flyby spacecraft, orbiter spacecraft, atmospheric probe spacecraft, atmospheric balloon packages, lander spacecraft, surface penetrator spacecraft, surface rover spacecraft, and observatory spacecraft. There are three basic possibilities for a robot spacecraft's trajectory when it encounters a planet. The first possible trajectory involves a direct hit or hard landing. This is an impact trajectory (trajectory a in the figure). A hard landing involves a relatively...

Deep Space 1 DS1 Spacecraft

The Deep Space 1 (DS1) mission was the first of a series of technology demonstration spacecraft and probes developed by NASA's New Millennium Program. It was primarily a mission to test advanced spacecraft technologies that had never been flown in space. In the process of testing its solar electric-propulsion system, autonomous navigation system, advanced microelectronics and telecommunications devices, and other cutting-edge aerospace technologies, Deep Space 1 encountered the Mars-crossing...

Telecommunications

Aerospace space engineers use the word telecommunications to describe the flow of data and information (usually by radio signals) between a spacecraft and an Earth-based communications system. A robot spacecraft generally has only a limited amount of power available to transmit a signal that sometimes must travel across millions or even billions of miles (kilometers) of space before reaching Earth. A deep space exploration spacecraft often has a transmitter that has no more than 20 watts of...

Magellan Spacecraft

The Magellan mission was a NASA solar system exploration mission to the planet Venus. On May 4, 1989, the 7,810-pound (3,550-kg) Magellan spacecraft was delivered to Earth orbit by the space shuttle Atlantis during the STS 30 mission. The large robot explorer was then sent on an interplanetary trajectory to the cloud-shrouded planet by a solid-fueled inertial upper-stage (IUS) rocket system. Magellan was the first interplanetary spacecraft to be launched by the space shuttle. On August 10,...

Deep Impact Spacecraft

In early July 2005, NASA's Deep Impact robot spacecraft performed a complex experiment in space that probed beneath the surface of a comet and helped reveal some of the secrets of its interior. As a larger flyby spacecraft released a smaller impactor spacecraft into the path of Comet Tempel 1, the experiment became one of a cometary bullet chasing down a spacecraft bullet (the penetrator), while a third spacecraft bullet (the flyby robot) sped along to watch. The greatest challenge for the...

Systems

Two of the most important products that will be manufactured in space later this century are robots and teleoperator systems. The ultimate goal of advanced space manufacturing systems cannot be achieved without a large expansion of the automation equipment initially provided from Earth. Eventually, space robots and teleoperators must be manufactured in space, drawing from the working experience gathered during the use of the first generation of space industrial robots. A teleoperator is an...

Extraterrestrial Impact of Self Replicating Systems

The issue of closure (total self-sufficiency) is one of the fundamental problems in designing self-replicating systems. In an arbitrary SRS unit there are three basic requirements necessary to achieve closure (1) matter closure, (2) energy closure, and (3) information closure. In the case of matter closure engineers ask Can the SRS unit manipulate matter in all the ways needed for complete self-construction If not, the SRS unit has not achieved matter or material closure. Similarly, engineers...

Star Probe Mission

Star Probe is a conceptual robot spacecraft that can survive an approach to within about 1 million miles (1.6 million km) of the Sun's surface (photosphere). This close encounter with the nearest star will give scientists their first direct (in situ) measurements of the physical conditions in the corona (the Sun's outer atmosphere). The challenging mission requires advanced robot-spacecraft technologies, including superior thermal protection, specialized instrumentation, guidance and control,...

Deep Space Network

The majority of NASA's scientific investigations of the solar system are accomplished through the use of robot spacecraft. The Deep Space Network (DSN) provides the two-way communications link that guides and controls these spacecraft and brings back to Earth the spectacular planetary images and other important scientific data they collect. The DSN consists of telecommunications complexes strategically placed on three continents providing almost continuous contact with scientific spacecraft...

Pioneer 3 Spacecraft

Following the disappointing, unsuccessful attempts by the U.S. Air Force and NASA in the Pioneer 0, 1, and 2 lunar probe missions in 1958, a collaborative team of aerospace engineers and rocket scientists from the U.S. Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA), NASA, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) tried to reach the Moon with another family of robot probes that year. The team designed and constructed two small robot probes for this effort the 12.9-pound (5.9-kg) Pioneer 3 spacecraft and its...

Mariner 9 Spacecraft

NASA had originally planned the Mariner Mars 71 mission to consist of two spacecraft orbiting Mars on complementary missions. The Mariner 8 orbiter was to map about 70 percent of the surface of Mars, while the Mariner 9 orbiter was to study changes in the atmosphere and surface of Mars over an extended period of time. When Mariner 8 was lost because of a launch failure, however, Mariner 9 inherited a combined set of mission objectives. For the survey portion of the Mariner Mars 71 mission,...

Functional Subsystems

A robot spacecraft's functional subsystems support the mission-oriented science payload and allow the spacecraft to operate in space, collect data, and communicate with Earth. Aerospace engineers attach all of the other spacecraft components onto the structural subsystem. Aluminum is by far the most common spacecraft structural material. The engineer can select from a wide variety of aluminum alloys, which provide the spacecraft designer with a broad range of physical characteristics, such as...

Telepresence Virtual Reality and Robots with Human Traits

Telepresence, or virtual residency, makes use of telecommunications, interactive displays, and a collection of sensor systems on a robot (which is at some distant location) to provide the human operator with a sense of actually being present where the robot system is located. Depending on the level of sophistication in the operator's workplace as well as upon the robot system, this telepresence experience can vary from a simple stereoscopic view of the scene to a complete virtual-reality...

Lunokhod 1 and 2 Robot Rovers

Lost in the glare of the triumphant human landings on the Moon conducted by the United States between 1969 and 1972 were several highly successful Soviet robot spacecraft missions to the same celestial body. Luna 16, launched on September 12, 1970, was the first successful automated (robotic) sample-return mission to the lunar surface. After landing on the Sea of Fertility, this robot spacecraft deployed a drill that bored 13.8 inches (35 cm) into the surface. The lunar soil sample, which This...

Control of Self Replicating Systems

Whenever engineers discuss the technology and role of self-replicating systems, their conversations inevitably turn to the interesting question What happens if a self-replicating system (SRS) gets out of control Before human beings seed the solar system or interstellar space with even a single SRS unit, engineers and mission planners should know how to pull an SRS unit's plug if things get out of control. Some engineers and scientists have already raised a very legitimate concern about SRS...

Viking 1 and 2 Lander Spacecraft

The Viking 1 lander spacecraft accomplished the first soft landing on Mars on July 20, 1976, on the western slope of Chryse Planitia (the Plains of Gold) at 22.46 degrees north latitude, 48.01 degrees west longitude. The Viking 2 lander touched down successfully on September 3, 1976, at Utopia Planitia (Plains of Utopia) located at 47.96 degrees north latitude, 225.77 degrees west longitude. NASA's Viking 1 lander took this image of Mars on August 8, 1978 730 days after landing at Chryse...

Lunar Prospector Spacecraft

A little more than three decades after the last Ranger spacecraft smashed onto the Moon's surface, NASA's Lunar Prospector spacecraft gathered some important data that promises to shape the future of lunar exploration and settlement in the 21st century. A NASA Discovery Program spacecraft, Lunar Prospector was a modern space robot designed for a low-altitude, polar orbit investigation of the Moon. The spacecraft was launched successfully from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, by a...

Pioneer Venus Mission

The Pioneer Venus mission consisted of two separate spacecraft launched by NASA to the planet Venus in 1978. The Pioneer Venus Orbiter spacecraft (also called Pioneer 12) was a 1,217-pound (553-kg) spacecraft that contained a 99-pound (45-kg) payload of scientific instruments. Pioneer 12 was launched on May 20, 1978, and placed into a highly eccentric orbit around Venus on December 4, 1978. For 14 years (1978-92), the Pioneer Venus Orbiter spacecraft gathered a wealth of scientific data about...

NASAs Soccer Ball Space Robot

The Autonomous Extravehicular Activity Robotic Camera (AERCam Sprint) provided experimental demonstration of the use of a prototype free-flying television camera that (in the future) could be used by astronauts to conduct remote inspections of the exterior of the space shuttle or International Space Station from inside the pressurized crew cabin or module. The AERCam Sprint free-flyer is a 14-inch- (35.6-cm-) diameter, 35-pound (15.9-kg) robot sphere that contains two television cameras, an...

Mars Exploration Rover MER 2003 Mission

In summer 2003, NASA launched identical twin Mars rovers that were to operate on the surface of the Red Planet during 2004. Spirit (MER-A) was launched by a Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral on June 10, 2003, and successfully landed on Mars on January 4, 2004. Opportunity (MER-B) was launched from Cape Canaveral on July 7, 2003, by a Delta II rocket and successfully landed on the surface of Mars on January 25, 2004. Both landings resembled the successful airbag bounce-and-roll arrival...

Space Nuclear Power

Through the cooperative efforts of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), formerly called the Atomic Energy Commission, and NASA, the United States has used nuclear energy in its space program to provide electrical power for many missions, including science stations on the Moon, extensive exploration missions to the outer planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and beyond and even to search for life on the surface of Mars. For example, when the Apollo 12 mission astronauts departed from the...

Surveyor Project

Lunar Surveyor Spacecraft

NASA's highly successful Surveyor Project began in 1960. It consisted of seven robot lander spacecraft that were launched between May 1966 and NASA's Surveyor spacecraft was a robot lander that explored the Moon's surface from 1966 to 1968, in preparation for the lunar landing missions of the Apollo astronauts (1969-72). (NASA) (Note Drawing does not show main retro rocket.) NASA's Surveyor spacecraft was a robot lander that explored the Moon's surface from 1966 to 1968, in preparation for the...

Prospecting for Lunar Water with Smart Robots

The Moon is nearby and accessible, so it is a great place to try out many of the new space technologies, including advanced robot spacecraft, which will prove critical in the detailed scientific study and eventual human exploration of more distant alien worlds, such as Mars. Whether a permanent lunar base turns out to be feasible depends on the issue of logistics, especially the availability of water in the form of water ice. The logistics problem is quite simple. Water is dense and rather...

Conclusion

Robot spacecraft are sophisticated exploring machines that have visited all the major worlds of the solar system, including tiny Pluto. At the dawn of the Space Age, scientists and engineers began using relatively unsophisticated space robots in their quest to explore the previously unreachable worlds and mysterious cosmic phenomena beyond Earth's atmosphere. Today, a little more than four decades later, incredibly complex robotic exploring machines allow scientists to conduct detailed,...

Robots Exploring Icy Regions

Europa Cryobot

The icy, northern polar region of Mars is interesting to exobiologists, because that is where the (frozen) water is and where there is water (even in the form of ice), there may be life, extant or extinct. Similarly, close-up study of Europa by NASA's Galileo spacecraft has provided tantalizing hints that this major moon of Jupiter may possess a liquid water ocean beneath its icy crust. Once again, where there is liquid water, there is the intriguing possibility that alien life-forms (ALFs) may...

Interstellar Probes

This artist's concept is an accurate representation of the view toward the Sun from NASA's Pioneer 10 spacecraft on June 13, 1983. On that historic date, this far-traveling robot spacecraft crossed the orbit of Neptune, which at the time was the farthest major planet from the Sun because of the eccentric orbit of Pluto. With this passage, Pioneer 10 became the first human-made object to travel beyond the planetary boundary of the solar system. From Pioneer 10's vantage, a person looks across...

Mobile Robots as Scientific Laboratories

NASA engineers are planning to add a strong dose of artificial intelligence (AI) to planetary landers and rovers to make these robot spacecraft much more self-reliant and capable of making basic decisions during a mission without human control or supervision. In the past, robot rovers contained very simple AI systems, which allowed them to make a limited number of basic, noncomplicated decisions. In the future, however, mobile robots will possess much higher levels of AI or machine intelligence...

Viking 1 and 2 Orbiter Spacecraft

Viking Orbiter

The Viking Project was the culmination of an initial series of American missions to explore Mars in the 1960s and 1970s. This series of interplanetary missions began in 1964 with Mariner 4, continued with the Mariner 6 and 7 flyby missions in 1969, and then the Mariner 9 orbital mission in 1971 and 1972. Viking was designed to orbit Mars and to land and operate on the surface of the Red Planet. Two identical spacecraft, each consisting of a lander and an orbiter, were built. The primary mission...

Mars Airplane

The Mars airplane is a conceptual low-mass robotic (uncrewed) aerial platform that can deploy experiment packages or conduct detailed reconnaissance operations on Mars. In some mission scenarios, the Mars airplane would be used to deploy a network of science stations, such as seismometers or meteorology stations, at selected Martian sites, with an accuracy of a few miles (kilometers). When designed with a payload capacity of about 110 pounds (50 kg), the robot flying platform could collect...

Interstellar Journeys of the Pioneer 10 and 11 Spacecraft

The Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft, as their names imply, are true deep-space explorers the first human-made objects to navigate the main asteroid belt, the first spacecraft to encounter Jupiter and its fierce radiation belts, the first to encounter Saturn, and the first spacecraft to leave the solar system. These spacecraft also investigated magnetic fields, cosmic rays, the solar wind, and interplanetary dust concentrations, as they flew through interplanetary space. The Pioneer 10 spacecraft...

Orbiters Probes and Penetrators

The same types of very precise navigation- and course-correction procedures used in flyby missions are also applied during the cruise phase of a planetary orbiter mission. The process of planetary-orbit insertion places the spacecraft in precisely the correct location at the correct time to enter into an orbit around the target planet. Orbit insertion requires not only the precise position and timing of a flyby mission but also a controlled deceleration. As the spacecraft's trajectory is bent...