Mars Rover Spirit Update

In an update of the Mars rover's situation, the flight controllers have indicated that the plans will switch to surviving the upcoming Martian winter rather than trying to extricate Spirit from the sand trap where it is stuck.  The story from Cosmic Log is linked to below.  Follow that link to read the post. 

    "Right now the rover is embedded … we do not believe it's extractable," Doug     McCuistion, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, said today during a     teleconference. "Right now the worry is about getting through the winter."


Spherical Robots Practice Formation Flying in Space

NASA has this experiment onboard the International Space Space to test the concept of robot flying in formation and performing other manuevers in space. 

The NASA website explains, “Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) are bowling-ball sized spherical satellites.  Three free-flying spheres can fly within the cabin of the Space Station, performing flight formations. Each satellite is self-contained with power, propulsion, computers and navigation equipment. The results are important for satellite servicing, vehicle assembly and formation flying spacecraft configurations.”

It would seem that these little robots could be great assistants for the astronauts.  They could hold cameras, carry tools, or they could provide lighting for work situations.  I don’t know if they are being considered for that work, but they should.  Read the stories at the links below for more information.


Photo Credit:  NASA

“MIT has had a set of robots called SPHERES (Synchronized Position Hold, Engage, Reorient Experimental Satellites) on board the International Space Station since May of 2006 to test out algorithms for autonomous navigation and docking maneuvers. Each sphere is about 8″ in diameter and has 18 sides. They gets around with 12 thrusters powered by compressed CO2, while ultrasonic and infrared sensors and a wireless link tell them where they are. SPHERES are able to maneuver precisely enough to dance around in a circle on the ISS; watch as a third robot enters the pattern:

The idea behind SPHERES is that a bunch of small satellites working together is much cheaper, much more efficient, and much more robust than one single large satellite. It’s swarm robotics, up in space.”  From BotJunkie

The following sites provided source materials for this article



MIT Spheres

Danger Room

Spherical Robots Dance In Space
Evan Ackerman
Thu, 21 Jan 2010 11:55:49 GMT

Trying to Dig Out, Mars Robot Digs Into a Discovery

Sometimes the biggest discoveries come through by accident.  Spirit, the Mars robotic rover stuck in a patch of loose Martian soil, has churned–up something interesting.  Bright, fluffy material covered by a dark crust.  To see what this might mean, check out the article from


Credit: JPL/NASA via PhysOrg

Spirit surveys its own predicament. The bright soil pictured left is loose, fluffy material churned by the rover's left-front wheel as Spirit, driving backwards, broke through a darker, crusty surface. At right is the least-embedded of the rover's …

Sandtrapped Rover Makes a Big Discovery – PhysOrg
(author unknown)
Thu, 03 Dec 2009 21:45:00 GMT

Seattle Team Robot Wins Space Elevator Challenge

Arthur C. Clarke brought this idea to the forefront in his 1979 novel "The Fountains of Paradise", but the idea dates back to 1895 when Konstantin Tsiolkovsky proposed “a free-standing tower reaching from the surface of Earth to geostationary orbit.”  Over the years, the idea has gone from impossible to a competition to build a robotic climber to demonstrate the feasibility of this concept.  Here are two stories on the prize winners from this contest.  Also, check out the 2009 Space Elevator Games website.  Go to You Tube to see video of this amazing robot in action.

LaserMotive Wins

(NASA photo / Tom Tschida)

Andy Petro of NASA's Centennial Challenges program congratulates Tom Nugent and Jordan Kare of the LaserMotive team that won the Space Elevator Power-Beaming Challenge Games at NASA Dryden Nov. 6, as Ben Shelef of the sponsoring Spaceward Foundation looks on. LaserMotive won the second-tier award of $900,000 by propelling their laser-powered robotic climber up a 900-meter cable suspended from a hovering helicopter in 3 minutes and 48 seconds.

Dryden Flight Research Center

Powered by a ground-based laser pointed up at the robot's photo voltaic cells that converted the light into electricity, the LaserMotive machine completed one of its climbs in about three minutes and 48 seconds, good for second-place money.

Seattle team wins $900,000 in Space Elevator Games – KTTC
(author unknown)
Sun, 08 Nov 2009 09:15:00 GMT

Robot Battalions Will Explore the Solar System

Up to this point in space exploration, robots have been solitary explorers commanded ultimately from Earth.  Sure, they may have used other spacecraft for communication relays as some Mars landers have done, but they have not been controlled by other machines.  Now, that may be changing.  As this story from the Telegraph states, “Robotic airships and satellites will fly above the surface of the distant world, commanding squadrons of wheeled rovers and floating robot boats, according to Wolfgang Fink of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).”  Robots will use networks to control other robots.  This will allow redundancy in the operations.  Cheap rovers and flyers can be deployed to explore the surface, while an orbiting spacecraft oversees the operations.  In order for this to work, the controlling robots must have the ability to make intelligent choices of where to send its minions or when to shut down a malfunctioning bot.  Prof Fink, director of Caltech's Visual and Autonomous Exploration Systems Research Laboratory, is leading his team in “developing software that would let a robotic explorer act independently and as part of a network. They would select priorities for exploration and anticipate and handle problems on their own.” 

Papers describing this new exploration are published in the journal Computer Methods and Programs in Biomedicine and in the Proceedings of the SPIE.  For more information on this work, visit .  You can find information on JPL missions is at .

Story is adapted from materials at, Science Daily and NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Alien worlds may be explored by armies of flying, driving and sailing robots, say scientists.

By Tom Chivers

Robotic airships and satellites will fly above
See all stories on this topic

Robot armies 'will explore alien worlds'
Wed, 28 Oct 2009 10:19:37 GMT

Robot Ready for Shovel-Ready Moon Projects

Here is a project that combines two of my great passions:  space exploration and robots.   These college students have developed a robot for the NASA Regolith Excavator Centennial Challenge at Ames Research Air Force Base in Mountain View, California, on October 17.  Winner of the challenge will win a half a million dollars.  In order to even qualify, the robot must dig 150 kg of simulated lunar regolith in under 30 minutes.  You can watch the video on You Tube of the robot in action as it scoops dirt in both directions and then travels up a ramp to dump the load.  Will it make the goal or not?  Check out the complete story at

Credit: Global BC

UBC engineering students unveil moon dust-shoveling robot
( — A robot designed by UBC students will be shoveling moon dust at an international robotics competition, vying for a $500000 prize
Engineering students build moon dirt digging robot for NASA competition  Vancouver Sun
all 5 news articles »

UBC engineering students unveil moon dust-shoveling robot –
(author unknown)
Mon, 12 Oct 2009 15:40:51 GMT

Robotic Hamster Ball Design for Google Lunar X Prize

New Scientist has an article on the contenders for the Google Lunar X Prize.  If you haven’t heard of this, it is a contest sponsored by Google to see who can land a rover on the Moon and accomplish a set of pre-assigned tasks.  Do this and your team gets a great deal of recognition and $20 million. 

The Google Lunar X Prize site details what the rovers need to accomplish:  “The Google Lunar X PRIZE is a $30 million international competition to safely land a robot on the surface of the Moon, travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send images and data back to the Earth. Teams must be at least 90% privately funded and must be registered to compete by December 31, 2010. The first team to land on the Moon and complete the mission objectives will be awarded $20 million; the full first prize is available until December 31, 2012. After that date, the first prize will drop to $15 million. The second team to do so will be awarded $5 million. Another $5 million will awarded in bonus prizes. The final deadline for winning the prize is December 31, 2014.” 

So, on the New Scientist site there photos of some of the more interesting and unique entries.  They cover the range of hoppers, wheeled rovers, and, in one case, a sphere-shaped robot reminiscent of a hamster ball.  You can see this planned lunar bot in the photo below.  Click on the photo to go to the page in the New Scientist article about this creation by Team Frednet, one of the Google X Prize entrants.  And look at the video on You Tube of the PicoRover, as it is called.  This innovative approach to a lunar rover is very intriguing because it weighs only 500 grams.  It certainly won’t need a Saturn 5 to get it to the Moon.  And besides, if this design doesn't make  it to the Moon, it certainly has a future as a cat toy.

Hamster Ball Moon Rover 

Image: Team Frednet/Joshua Tristancho

More than a dozen teams are racing to claim a $30 million prize for landing a robot rover on the moon – see the most advanced prototypes so far

Hamster balls and lunar hoppers: meet the X Prize teams
Wed, 12 Aug 2009 14:50:14 GMT

Astrobotic Technology Lunar Robot Update

Here’s another take on the Astrobotic Technology robot that is slated to voyage to the Moon in 2011.  These two stories cover the power angle of this future lunar explorer.  This robot will use solar power as its energy source and it is being designed to survive the heat of lunar noon.  Check out both stories linked to below.

Mike writes "Carnegie Mellon roboticist Dr. William Whittaker has teamed up with Astrobiotic Technology to develop a solar powered moon rover that will explore the Apollo landing site in 2011.

Solar-Powered Moon Rover To Explore Apollo Landing
Thu, 23 Jul 2009 05:25:39 GMT

Solar-Powered Moon Rover to Explore Apollo Landing Site

Wed, 22 July 2009

Astrobotic Technology Reveals Robot Design To Survive Moon’s Extreme Heat

In a post today at IEEE Spectrum, the design for Astrobotic Technology’s entry into the Google Lunar X Prize in revealed.  This unique concept is conceived around the idea of surviving the incredible heat of a lunar noon which is 270 degrees F or 130 degrees C.  Just how will it accomplish this feat?  David Gump, the company's president, gives the details in a feature on the Astrobotic’s website:

The robot beats the heat by keeping a cool side aimed away from the Sun to radiate heat off to the black sky. It travels toward or away from the sun (generally east or west) without turning its radiator into the light. Only the solar cells on the hot side ever face the sun. The robot can travel north and south by tacking like a sailboat.

Astrobotics Robot

Photo Credit:  Astrobotic Technology

New design overcomes intense lunar heat

For the company vying for the Google Lunar X Prize, it's all about keeping the (robot's) head cool.  

Astrobotic Technology Reveals Robot Design To Survive Moon's Extreme Heat
Tue, 21 Jul 2009 00:24:12 GMT

Robotic Grasshopper May Help Explore Mars Surface

This robot can jump like a grasshopper and roll like a tumbleweed.  It is called Jollbot and it may be headed to Mars someday.  Or it may help here on Earth in areas of rough terrain with jobs like surveying.  Going back to an article posted in December, 2008 at, the researchers believe this is the first robot that can both jump and roll.  This behavior can solve a problem that robotic explorers on other planets routinely face:  objects that are too large to roll over.  Nature again provides a model to solve a problem and create a new design in robotics.

rolling grasshopper robot

Image Credit:  Nic Delves-Broughton, University of Bath

The Jollbot was masterminded by Rhodri Armour, who spent a year building the robot with colleagues at the University of Bath. The robot, which can jump and roll, enjoys an edge over other machines due to its ability to launch itself over obstacles …

Robotic grasshopper to help explore Mars' rocky geography – New Kerala
Mon, 06 Jul 2009 08:44:00 GMT