Tuesday, September 27, 2011

One of two vehicles used in Desert RATS. 

In addition to the 'science backroom' at ESTEC, ESA had a robotic expert Frédéric Didot in Arizona and a mission control expert Paul Steele at NASA's Johnson Space Centre. Steele also acted as CapComm during the operations.

Credits: ESA - F. Didot

Earlier this month, European scientists linked up with astronauts roaming over the surface of an asteroid. Desert RATS, NASA’s realistic simulation of a future mission, this year included a European dimension for the first time.

It was not really an asteroid, but a desert near Flagstaff in Arizona, USA. Since 1999, scientists, astronauts and engineers from various NASA establishments and universities have gathered once a year to simulate human missions to the Moon and Mars.

Desert RATS – Desert Research and Technology Studies – have tested rovers, habitats, spacesuits, instruments, robots, communication systems, research methods and other technical, scientific and operational aspects of future missions.

These realistic ‘missions’ in extreme environments help to guide planning for future space exploration and build valuable experience in complex operations.

Desert RATS field trip by an astronaut and geologist. The space suits were not used on these "spacewalks" this year.

Credits: ESA - F. Didot

Fly me to an asteroid

This time, the crew of astronauts and geologists ‘landed’ on a nearby asteroid and ventured out on field trips – by foot and on two Space Exploration Vehicles.

For two weeks, the crew lived in a Deep Space Habitat with realistic radio links to their mother craft and mission control on Earth.

They had to cope with a two-way communications delay of 100 seconds with Earth, and limited bandwidth.

Reproducing the low gravity on an asteroid was impossible, but the ‘spacewalkers’ acted as though they were on a small body.

For instance, they had to attach themselves to the ground when they used their hammers to take geological samples – otherwise, the recoil would have sent them spinning into space.

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