Monday, December 12, 2005

Spider Robots In Space

Robotic 'spiders' could be the key to building large-scale structures in space, according to ESA's Advanced Concepts Team. The tiny mechanical spiders would inch their way across large nets of fabric in space performing small tasks or lining up to create an antenna or some other structure.

The concept is known as a Furoshiki satellite after the Japanese word for a cloth used to wrap up possessions. It could revolutionise satellite-based applications such as telecommunications, navigation and Earth observation using radars, by providing cost effective large antennas in space that can be launched on relatively small rockets.

The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is planning to test a Furoshiki spacecraft in January 2006. Assisted by ESA's Advanced Concepts Team, it has chosen the robotics institute of the Vienna University of Technology to develop the small robots. The Vienna team is led by Prof. Kopacek, who is known for his world championship victories in robot soccer!

The experiment will be launched in a compact configuration aboard a Japanese sounding rocket. Once in space, the mother satellite will deploy three 'daughters'. These will pull out a woven net into a triangle, leaving the mother satellite at the centre. Once the net is deployed, two palm-sized robots will 'crawl' along the net into prearranged positions.

To do this, the team have created a cunning system of wheels for the robots that can grip both sides of the fabric in order to not loose the net when there is no gravity.

ESA Portal - Spider robots and the space web


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