Before aiming at the moon, robot-rovers train at Etna

Just descending from the lander, which remains in the background to make the scene more realistic, the robot makes its first movements on the black ground. Its wheels slip a little, it moves its head from left to right through the eyes of the camera and moves slowly. Her long arms stretched out, her arms open and she grabbed a stone that seemed beautiful and attractive to her, like a child collecting colored marbles on the ground.

A few meters away from him, he installs a pair of antennas that allow him to receive frequencies from distant universes. Together they collect data from the terrain to draw a lunar map. The two robots sway towards each other from a distance, as if to say “everything is fine”, and continue their work.

Here, in Etna, we test our robot-rovers, because they are built on wheels, in real terms, on the ground which is very similar to the position of the moon, so we chose to come here with our machines, because the ground is black. That of the moon “Armin Weidler, mission manager and robotics engineer at the German space agency, DLR, explained.

Over the course of several days, Etna has been transformed into a huge experimental field for dozens of scientists and engineers from the European Space Agency (ESA) and the DLR. To discover these incredible robots you have to climb two thousand six hundred meters above sea level, at the foot of a smoking crater.

The sand of the volcano has a structure similar to the soil of the moon“Astrophysicist Bernard Foying, who is considered the father of the first European mission to the moon, explained the Smart 1 mission between 2003 and 2006.”Here, we are preparing to build a lunar village where scientific experiments will be done to study the moon, but also astronomy, cosmology to observe the planets and the earth. “ These robots, which weigh about thirty kilograms, could be part of ESA’s future lunar missions, which will be transported to the Gateway Orbital Station, which should be built by 2024.

Robotics in action

In the Sicilian volcano, ESA wants to evaluate a system that allows orbiting astronauts to remotely control a rover that will explore the lunar surfaces. With a weight of three hundred kilograms, the Interact is more effective than two twin rovers, which is why it is only used for terrestrial testing.

Interact arrived at Etna to test a haptic device, in other words, a system that allows the robot’s controller to understand exactly what the machine is touching. Thomas Reiter, a former European astronaut, has been practicing for hours with a mechanical arm that acts as his joystick. ” The next time we go to the moon we don’t have to take any steps, we want to stay there for a long time and the next step will be Mars.He assured. I was 11 when Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the moon, and I feel cold when I think back! “

From a hotel room transformed into a control room twenty-three kilometers from the volcano, Thomas Writer’s hand became the hand installed in the interaction. The robotic hand will use the same force that he applies to the joystick to hold rocks or pick up sand. “For this return to the moon, we must be technically ready, and Etna is suitable for practice and for testing instruments that will help us gain scientific knowledge about satellites. “The German astronaut added.

The purpose is obviously to send the robots to the ground alone and control them remotely from the gateway station module. “We use the principles of artificial intelligence, so we are stuffed with information that these robots can use. For example, one is not a stone to choose from, while scientists on lunar missions need to collect a sample.“Benoit Putzes, a 26-year-old Luxembourg engineer who works for Essar in The Hague,” explained.We hope that somehow, at some point, the vast amount of information he has will allow him to detect certain actions without instructions.The young man, who is testing his program for the first time in a real place far away from his laboratory, added.

Hello, Jupiter?

The tourists who go to Itna stop in groups are curious, they think they are working on shooting a movie. It’s true that robots have a little Star Wars side. These vacationers have no doubt that all recent experiments on volcanoes have a very specific goal: to reliably reproduce when the ESA’s lunar mission – NASA and the space agency Japanese, is partnering with Jaxar. Will be launched last from 2024 or 2025.

“Robots will install these types of boxes in very specific places to create a network of sensorsBenoit Foing explained. Especially away from the moon, an undiscovered place where there is no frequency pollution like Earth. Equipped with antennas, these receivers will be able to pick up sounds from other planets and, most likely, one can dream from a very distant universe.

On Tuesday Etna, the antenna of the LoFar system thus picked up a frequency from Jupiter. “Jupiter is brighter than the Sun in the radio domain, and occasionally, when Jupiter’s satellite Io exceeds its magnetic field, it emits sound. It happened yesterday (Wednesday, editor’s note), at 1 p.m., when Jupiter was rising. So we went on a night mission to observe and capture Jupiter’s eruption. “

Enthusiasm is going to be noticed where the mission is taking place on five hundred square meters of volcanic land. Most of the engineers present are not 30 years old. “NASA Americans are more advanced with their roversAlin Albu Schaefer of the robotics department of the German space agency admitted 7 But the idea of ​​different robots working together is our strong point! “

One of the robots stops right in front of an obstacle, it checks the ground and sends information to its twins to point out new ways to avoid and avoid the obstacle. It is not a detail that the mission project is called Arches in French, “a network of autonomous robots to help modern society”. Because after walking on the moon, or rather rolling, these artificial intelligence-packed robots will return to Earth to help, for example, clean the battlefield with their hands with precision or pick up debris. There must be less glorious action than following in the footsteps of Armstrong, but that could ultimately be a big step for humanity. Even for a robot!

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