Space in a Suitcase: Astronaut Jeremy Hansen Puts a Lunar Rover through its Paces

Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen teleoperates a rover on the Canadian Space Agency's analogue terrain. For this test, Jeremy must rely entirely on the rover's cameras to guide it through a series of obstacles. (Credit: CSA)

Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen has a new title to add to his already impressive resume: rover test pilot. On June 19, 2013, Hansen became the first operator in the "Space in a Suitcase" technology demonstration. The project puts both the rover and its operator through a series of exercises under realistic conditions to test the best, most intuitive ways to command a rover on the surface of the Moon.

As its name hints, "Space in a Suitcase" is a portable rover command station—everything needed to drive a rover in one handy kit—that allows a rover driver to operate any Canadian Space Agency (CSA) rover from any location. For his first mission, Jeremy teleoperated the rover from a remote location at the CSA, using only the rover's onboard cameras and digital elevation map. For future tests, the CSA will simply send Space in a Suitcase to Jeremy so that he can tackle his next missions from anywhere in the world.

Your mission, if you choose to accept it….

Here are the directions Jeremy was given to begin the simulation:

“The rover has just landed on the surface of the Moon in a region where some features of interested have been located using orbital imagery. The goal of the mission is to investigate these features by navigating safely the rocky terrain and hills at the landing site. Your mission will be successful if you obtain a close-up photo of six science targets (from a distance of about 50 cm) using the onboard pan-tilt-zoom camera. Good luck, Rover Controller.”

In order to keep the mission as realistic as possible, the CSA's rover team planned a slight communications delay (varying between 1-3 seconds) and very limited bandwidth (just 100 kbps!) to simulate the real-time communications challenges between the Earth and the Moon. Jeremy successfully guided the rover through the terrain and captured all six science targets. The tasks ranged from more straightforward operations, like photographs of the rover's landing site, to inching gingerly through pathways so narrow that the rover could only exit by backtracking.

Next Steps for Space in a Suitcase

Not only will Jeremy's test serve to determine the best interfaces, equipment and ways of operating a rover, his work also doubles as a dry run for the next segment of the Space in a Suitcase test in July 2013, when a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)-led team working on the slopes of a volcano in Hawaii will use the CSA's kit to teleoperate a rover at the CSA's analogue terrain. The simulation will take place during a field test to evaluate new exploration techniques for the surface of the Moon, in particular, techniques to prospect for lunar ice.

Jeremy's Journal Entry for Space in a Suitcase

“The scenario had me controlling the rover remotely using only the cameras mounted on the rover. Sounds simple… not so much, there is a delay between the rover's movement and seeing the picture on the control display. So one has to drive very carefully to make sure you don't send the rover tumbling into a crater, or a simulated crater at the CSA! I used digital terrain elevation maps and the equivalent of satellite imagery to help guide the rover through a series of six exploration tasks, photographing areas of scientific interest, and ending the day by parking the rover back on its simulated landing craft. Today, I once again experienced firsthand the ingenuity and excellence of the Canadian Space Agency. Great work!”

Liste des photos

Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen teleoperates a rover on the Canadian Space Agency's analogue terrain. For this test, Jeremy must rely entirely on the rover's cameras to guide it through a series of obstacles. (Credit: CSA)

An aerial photo of the CSA's analogue terrain doubles as simulated satellite imagery of the rover's "landing site", marked by a red ellipse. Jeremy's first task was to confirm that the rover had, in fact, landed in the right area. (Credit: CSA)

Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen reviews the flight plan for the Space in a Suitcase technology demonstration test with a CSA trainer. (Credit: CSA)

The Canadian Space Agency rover (decked out with a Canadian flag!) during the first Space in a Suitcase test. At the time this photo was taken, he rover was being teleoperated by Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen (not shown) from a remote location. (Credit: CSA)

Teleoperations (a term used in the space world for commanding a robot or rover from a remote location) is no video game. For the Space in a Suitcase test demonstration, Canadian Astronaut Jeremy Hansen had to steer this rover through the Canadian Space Agency's analogue terrain using only its on-board cameras, one of which is clearly in view in this photo (the mirrored dome suspended in the middle of the horizontal bar at the top of the rover's platform). The rover's simulated landing site for the test can be seen in the background in the upper left. (Credit: CSA)

Mission success! After Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen completed the Space in a Suitcase test demonstration, he headed out to the analogue terrain to see the rover firsthand, and give it a test drive to compare the differences between teleoperations and commanding the rover directoly with a hand control. (Credit: CSA)