Science and Exploration

Robots, Humans, Assemble For The Moon

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
April 23, 2023
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Robots, Humans, Assemble For The Moon
ESA-ESRIC Space Resources Challenge

Robots and humans assembled their brains and artificial intelligence (AI) for Moon exploration at the ESA-ESRIC Space Resources Challenge. A team proved that when it comes to surveying uncharted worlds, working together is the most efficient approach.

12 teams from across Europe and Canada competed to find resources in a mock lunar surface. Over 200 tonnes of lava and rock, a hundred boulders and tricky slopes in a former aircraft hangar mimicked the surface of our Moon. The lighting recreated the long shadows that are projected around the Moon’s South Pole and the teams competing had to deal with a five-second communication delay as if they were 385 000 km away.

The teams developed different strategies traversing the unknown terrain and collecting samples for science analysis during two field tests in the Netherlands and Luxembourg in 2022.

This picture shows members of the Autonomous Robots for In-Situ Surface Exploration team (ARISE) at work to help their four robots complete the mission during the second campaign in Luxembourg, in September 2022.

ARISE won the Space Resources Challenge after their rovers managed to track down their own location in the simulated Moon, finding the safest passages and analysing the composition of the rocks as a potential resource.

Lunar resources such as oxygen, metals, soil and water are likely to play a large role in space economies. Making use of these resources will be crucial for sustainable space exploration, and the Moon is a promising target for extracting resources.

In a simulated lunar treasure hunt, teams made use of swarm robotics, an AI democracy where robots autonomously reach an agreement on how to accomplish their goal. The robots decided where to explore and which instruments were more suitable for each task.

The organisers praised ARISE’s skills at autonomy, mapping and mobility. The winning team was made of a consortium of European organisations, including the FZI Forschungszentrum Informatik, ETH Zurich, and the universities of Zurich, Basel and Bern.

ESA has launched a new campaign to identify technological gaps and find solutions for resource extraction on the Moon. A fresh call for ideas will serve to define the theme of the next edition of the Space Resource Challenge.

ESA’s next astronaut to fly to the International Space Station, Andreas Mogensen, will continue ESA’s ground-breaking research into human and robotic exploration. Andreas first mission, ‘iriss’ proved that humans can control robots from an orbiting space station when he performed tasks through a robot on Earth with millimeter precision. His next mission, Huginn is launching this year and will see Andreas controlling a swarm of robots on Earth from space, pushing the human-robot alliance even further.

The Moon awaits you and your robots.

SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.