New Space and Tech

Mars Robotic Construction Challenge

By Marc Boucher
April 8, 2013
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This was announced about a month ago but it’s well worth mentioning here. The Spaceward Foundation has once again teamed with NASA for the Mars Robotic Construction Challenge. This is really exciting news as it adds another piece to the exploration to do puzzle.

Here’s some of the reasoning behind this challenge. You can read the rest and the rules on their web site.


Suppose we want to build a fuel/oxygen generation plant on Mars, comprised of an ore processor, a reactor, and storage tanks. Or suppose we want to build a human habitat, comprised of several interconnected habitation and support modules…

With today’s technology, we already know how to build the basic machinery, and we also already know how to send payloads to the Martian surface… The problem is that we can only send up to a ton or two at a time. (The Spirit and Opportunity packages only weighed about half a ton each), and so have to assemble the structures on the Martian surface – with the human operators still on Earth!

This is difficult, since communication between Earth and Mars takes 20 minutes (at best) and so immediate “remote control” is not feasible – check out the Mars Rover Autonomous Mobility web page for an explanation – and keep in mind that cooperative tasks are infinitely more complex than simply “driving around”…

Of the technology development that is required on the way to Mars, the topic of cooperative remote robotic operations is probably the one that is the least well understood. The goal of the competition is to learn where the line should lie between autonomous operations and human control.

SpaceRef co-founder, entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, nature lover and deep thinker.