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Space car driven via remote control from International Space Station

International Space Station
International Space Station
NASA (public domain)

Lots of people love to drive remote controlled cars, but none of them come near the car-sized Eurobot driven by Alexander Gerst of the European Space Agency. Even more cool was the fact that Gerst was is able to steer the vehicle through intricate maneuvers here on Earth yesterday from his perch aboard the International Space Station via a dedicated laptop computer. Gerst accomplished the feat during an hour and a half live link relying on video and data feedback to feed commands from 400 km up, orbiting at 28 000 km/h.

According to the ESA, the link was provided by a newly developed network that capable of storing commands when signals are interrupted if direct line of sight with Earth or the surface unit is lost, then forwards them once contact is re-established.

During the test drive, Eurobot was directed to move and take pictures around a test facility at ESA’s ESTEC technology center in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, while ‘ground control’ was at ESOC and the disruption-tolerant network was routed via Belgium’s Station User Support and Operations facility in Brussels, Belgium and NASA. The test was a follow-up to one performed in 2012 t by NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, who used a prototype of the network to steer a model rover at ESA’s European Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany.

“This was the first time Eurobot was controlled from space as part of an experiment to validate communication and operations technologies that will ultimately be used for future human exploration missions both on the moon and Mars, as well as other alien sites,” noted Kim Nergaard, head of Advanced Mission Concepts at ESOC.

Note: The European Space Agency is an international organization based in Paris, and comprised of 20 nations including Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Canada also participates in some projects under a Cooperation agreement, as do Hungary, Latvia, Estonia and Slovenia.