Space Systems Lab
University of Maryland
About the Space Systems Laboratory
The Space Systems Laboratory (SSL) is dedicated to making human beings more productive while working in space. We believe that both humans and robots, working together, are necessary to accomplish this goal. We are currently developing robotic systems capable of assisting astronauts in EVA (spacewalk) tasks, thus making EVA excursions shorter and safer, and in some cases allowing astronauts to perform tasks that would otherwise be impossible. We also study the ways the human body works in space, quantify human abilities in orbit, and design tools and systems to help astronauts work in space.
The SSL was established in 1976 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by MIT faculty members Renee Miller and J.W. Mar. Its early studies in space construction techniques eventually led to the EASE (Experimental Assembly of Structures in EVA) flight experiment which flew on Space Shuttle mission STS-61B in late 1985. EASE was designed to evaluate the ability of astronauts to build structures in space.
Other early SSL work with Richard Stallman and Marvin Minsky resulted in the Aramis study, an early influential paper on the use of automation in space exploration. In addition, the SSL developed the first neutral buoyancy version of a Manned Manuevering Unit, which allows astronauts to fly untethered around the Space Shuttle. NASA now uses SAFER, a similar device, to ensure the safety of astronauts during EVA excursions.
The success of EASE led to questions about how well robots could build structures in space. The SSL's first neutral buoyancy robot, the Beam Assembly Teleoperator (BAT), was built in 1983 specifically to construct the EASE structure. Over BAT's lifetime, SSL personnel accumulated a large database comparing human and robot performance in space. BAT also demonstrated the ability of robots to assist astronauts during EVA excursions and to service and repair satellites.
Since 1983, the SSL has built eight robots, including the Multimode Proximity Operations Device (MPOD), an orbital manuevering vehicle or "space tugboat"; the Secondary Camera and Maneuvering Platform (SCAMP), a "floating eyeball"; and Ranger, a robot designed to be capable of replicating a Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission.
be used to study how best to design robotic manipulators for
servicing and repairing satellites and spacecraft in orbit.
There are three configurations of Ranger currently in
existence at the SSL: Ranger
Neutral Buoyancy Vehicle, an underwater prototype of a
space robot designed to repair satellites and assist
astronauts during EVA excursions; Ranger
Telerobotic Shuttle Experiment (RTSX), a space robot
designed to perform telerobotic servicing experiments while
in the cargo bay of the orbiter; and Ranger
Neutral Buoyancy Vehicle II, an engineering test unit
for RTSX and advanced robotic manipulators.