A new dimension in robotics

ESA trainee Sander Coene explains the significance of virtual reality and its potential for future space exploration and robotics training.

Sander and members of the training division at ESA’s astronaut centre in Cologne, Germany, have developed a platform called VORTEX (Virtual Reality Options for Robotics Training Expansion), which is now being used to test concepts for how astronauts might work with robotics on the lunar surface.

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Spaceship EAC – studying lunar regolith

In a breakthrough project from Spaceship EAC, Sarah Eriksson’s study into recreating Moon dust is enhancing our understanding of how materials from the lunar surface could be transformed into building blocks for the next extra-terrestrial base.

This project is one of several student-led projects as part of ESA’s Spaceship EAC initiative. Established in 2012, Spaceship EAC investigates technologies and concepts in support of ESA’s exploration strategy.

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Horizons mission – First call from space

ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst spoke to European media from the International Space Station on 12 June 2018, just three days after docking with the orbiting outpost.

The press conference was held at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany, and was mainly in German.

Alexander answered questions on climate, how it feel to be in space a second time, and the football World Cup.

This is Alexander’s second six-month stay on the International Space Station. The mission is called Horizons as a symbol for the unknown and what lies beyond. The mission further cements ESA’s know-how for living and working off-planet. Alexander will be testing ways of operating and working with robots to develop techniques required for further human and robotic exploration of our Solar System such as commanding rovers while orbiting another planet.

The Horizons science programme is packed with European research: Alexander will take part in over 50 experiments to deliver benefits to people on Earth as well as prepare for future space exploration. Many of these experiments will take place in Europe’s Columbus laboratory that is celebrating its 10th anniversary in space this year.

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Moondive

It’s one of the deepest ‘swimming pools’ in Europe, but for three years has been helping preparations for a human return to the Moon. ESA’s Neutral Buoyancy Facility at the European Astronaut Centre has been the site of the ‘Moondive’ study, using specially weighted spacesuits to simulate lunar gravity, which is just one sixth that of Earth.

The three-year study took place in the Centre’s 10-m deep Neutral Buoyancy Facility (NBF) near Cologne in Germany. This is one of four such immersion tanks worldwide – the others are in the United States, China and Russia – and is used to train astronauts for ‘extra vehicular activity’ (EVA), also known as spacewalks.

With International Space Station operations moving towards an international lunar return in the late 2020s, ESA’s NBF has been used to investigate moonwalk procedures for the lunar surface.

Moondive was run by a consortium led by the French company, COMEX, which specialises in human and robotic exploration of extreme environments.

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