IEEE Robotics and Automation Society IEEE

Space Robotics


The Space Robotics Technical Committee has two main areas of interest: Orbital Robotics and Planetary Rovers. Orbital Robotics includes manipulation and mobility for scenarios such as International Space Station (ISS) operations and satellite servicing. Planetary Rovers address scenarios such as Mars and lunar exploration from mobile robot on the surface. Some scenarios, such as asteroid and comet exploration, have environments with low gravity which may blur the distinctions between these categories.

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The Dextre robot on the International Space Station 

For Orbital Robotics the space environment (micro-gravity, radiation, contamination sensitivity, thermal extremes, etc.) poses unique challenges to robot and robot algorithms. Despite this, it is expected that the robotics discipline will find increasing importance in coming years, particularly as the opportunities for human-robot and robot-robot cooperation arise in space exploration. Priority areas for this technical committee include:

  • Electromechanical design and control.
  • Micro-gravity locomotion.
  • Machine vision for inspection and assembly, including compensation for stark lighting, glare, glint, and deep shadows.
  • Command and control interfaces, including teleoperated modes.
  • Power sources and consumable recharging techniques.
  • Radiation hardening and effects on processing throughput.
  • Thermal considerations in space robot design.


The Mars Science Laboratory Rover, “Curiosity”.

For Planetary Rovers, the surface environment also poses unique challenges. These include Orbital Robotics issues during transport or if an atmosphere is no present.  Further, there is usually the greater uncertainty of interacting with an unexplored natural terrain instead of man-made structures. Planetary rover technical topics include:

  • Sensing and perception for planetary exploration, including terrain-relative precision position estimation.
  • Above-surface, surface, and sub-surface planetary mobility, possibly from novel vehicle design concepts.
  • Command and control with limited bandwidth, often precluding teleoperation and requiring autonomous surface operations, with natural terrain navigation and manipulation.
  • Planetary rovers systems engineering.
  • Testing and qualification, including field tests on Earth and Mars.
  • Human-Robot system design and development.


  • May 10, 2013 -- Space Robotics Workshop, IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), Karlsruhe, Germany, May 2013.
  • December 7, 2012 – Submission deadline for Special Issue of Journal of Field Robotics dedicated to Space Robotics.
  • December 4, 2012 – NASA announces a new Mars mission for 2020 to place a rover similar to Curiosity on the surface of Mars.
  • November 21, 2012 – ESA and Russia announce plans to partner on a 2018 ExoMars rover mission.
  • October 10, 2012 – Prof. Klaus Schilling of University of Wurzbury, Germany, was funded by IEEE RAS to provide a Distinguished Lecture on Pico-Satellites for Education at the International Conference on Engineering and Technology in Cairo, Egypt.
  • August 6, 2012 – NASA’s Curiosity rover lands on Mars.
  • May 30, 2012 – NASA GSFC hosts the 2nd International Workshop on On-Orbit Satellite Servicing.
  • October 20, 2011 – DARPA announces the Phoenix program to develop technology for manipulation to extract and re-use functional hardware from dead satellites.
  • February 24, 2011 – Robonaut 2 was delivered to the International Space Station.