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The challenge

Tracking small changes in a complex space environment

Life is demanding for humans living and working off-Earth. Food, materials, and other inventory must be tracked; damage monitored and repaired; and emergencies tended to.

As we push forward to the Moon and Mars, astronauts' time will become ever more precious. Limited crews will need to use their time wisely, and some stations, habitats and facilities will not be continuously crewed. Ensuring astronauts know what needs fixing and what is safe will be of the utmost importance.

Additionally, rovers and robots exploring other worlds must navigate complex terrain, sometimes with little to no human input. We must ensure these technologies have accurate information about the landscape around them to make appropriate decisions on the fly.

Our response

Fused sensor system for autonomous 3D scanning

In collaboration with Boeing, NASA Ames Research Centre, and the International Space Station (ISS) National Laboratory, we've developed our multi-resolution scanning technology for demonstration on the ISS. This small device combines CSIRO technologies to rapidly create detailed, three-dimensional maps of the surrounding environment. Our experts originally developed this technology for terrestrial remote access applications, such as on mine sites.

The payload will launch to the ISS, set inside an Astrobee robot platform. These cube-shaped robots support astronaut activities on the ISS, and the multi-resolution scanner is the first time one piece of tech will use both Astrobee payload bays simultaneously.

Once onboard the ISS, the multi-resolution scanner will conduct a range of experiments, including full internal scans, starting with the Japanese experimental module (Kibō). The data from the payload is capable of supporting inventory analysis and other tasks that typically require human input. In doing so, we hope to demonstrate how sensing and mapping can support robots performing caretaker functions on uncrewed spacecraft.

CSIRO's multi-resolution scanning payload, attached to an Astrobee robot platform in a simulated ISS environment at NASA Ames Research Centre.

Potential future uses of the technology include external hull integrity scanning, to identify potential damage from micrometeoroid and other impacts. This could be particularly useful in locations such as the Moon-orbiting Gateway, which may not be crewed at all times.

The multi-resolution scanner could also be deployed on off-world surface missions, such as on rovers or multi-legged robots.

The experiment is an important part of our Space Technology Future Science Platform, which seeks to test CSIRO-developed technologies in the space environment. Our efforts focus on growing capability in Australia’s space sector and paving the way for future research and commercial opportunities.

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