Houston, do you copy? Leo Rover is on a space mission, over

Read about the Leo Rover robot’s contribution to the LunAres Research Station simulated missions.

May 9, 2023


Aleksandra Szczepaniak

Leo Rver at LunAres

Robots, and mobile ones in particular, can be applied for many different purposes. For example, LunAres Research Station has found a use for the Leo Rover robot for their space missions on Earth. Yep, you heard (or read) right. Space missions on Earth are a thing. Find out more about this particular Leo Rover application :).

About LunAres Research Station

LunAres Research Station is an analog facility for simulating manned space missions. It was established in 2017, being the first project of this kind in Europe. It provides complete isolation, enabling comprehensive research on the physiological and psychological effects of long-term extraterrestrial human presence. The station allows to hold Martian and Lunar 2-weeks missions for a 6-person crew.

The facility is located in Piła, Poland, in a remote area at a post-military airport, with a nuclear bunker hangar serving as the base for the station. The remote location of the facility along with it being abandoned, have created a unique opportunity to organize fully isolated EVA (extra-vehicular activity) simulations.

LunAres layout
source: https://lunares.space

Inside the base, there are carried out studies on human factors in manned space missions, as well as testing sustainable technology. The base is entirely isolated from the environment, including an EVA area of 250 square meters. Performing outdoor tasks inside the hangar allows the crew members not to be exposed to the familiar terrestrial environment. The station’s infrastructure enables constant monitoring of the crew’s health and behavior. Depending on the scenario (day or night), site characteristics and conditions, the EVA area can be controlled. The hangar area is filled with a variety of basalt and silica materials ranging from very fine sand to cobble.

The overall goal of LunAres is to make a research platform for supporting technological and scientific development in manned space exploration. The research involves a wide range of specialists in the fields of biotechnology, extreme medicine, robotics and engineering, architecture, sociology, psychology. The ability to observe and control the internal environment and also telemetry of the crew’s mental and physical states provides a significant amount of data for comprehensive research.

Lunares provides both space and environment for a variety of experiments studying human factors in isolated habitat and space, and for R&D projects that design technologies that could ensure the survival and accomplishment of mission objectives. The human factors research focuses on the effects of mission conditions and isolation on the physiological and mental health of the crew. During each mission, the management team supports researchers in collecting big data.

Leo Rover’s role at LunAres

A Leo Rover robot joined the ranks of LunAres in 2019 and, since then, it’s participated in 11 missions. The rover is applied for EVA simulation activities, supporting the crew in any exploration, sampling tasks or emergency/maintenance scenarios. The robot provides Ground Control with an extra pair of eyes to monitor the crew, allowing for night vision. It can come in handy in unusual scenarios, such as simulating night-time and loss of communication during EVA simulations.

Leo Rover crew monitoring
Crew monitoring with the Leo Rover
credit: LunAres Research Station

Having added the Leo Rover robot to the LunAres team allowed for a whole bunch of other possibilities, including the Verne mission that took place in fall 2021. During the mission, the Leo Rover was remotely operated by the crew members outside the station, which entailed a special communication protocol.

Controlling the Leo Rover robot remotely
Controlling the Leo Rover robot remotely
credit: LunAres Research Station

The development of EVA procedures is one of the goals of analog space missions at LunAres. The use of robots creates opportunities for more complex scenarios, documentation, as well as studies on human-robot collaboration.

Leo Rover during human-robot interaction
The Leo Rover during human-robot interaction
credit: LunAres Research Station

The Leo Rover robot’s engineering allows for easily adapting and improving its accessories to the mission requirements. It makes the robot a crucial part of rapid prototyping and making multiple iterations. For example, the LunAres crews have created 4 versions of a special handle, and also experimented with various holders, cameras, extra lights and a robotic arm.

The Leo Rover robot with attached the WidowX robotic arm from Trossen Robotic
The Leo Rover robot equipped with a WidowX robotic arm from Trossen Robotics
credit: LunAres Research Station

Since 2019, the Leo Rover robot’s become a significant and irreplaceable part of the LunAres crew and one of the elements that brings the space walk simulation closer to real scenarios. The robot can even be called the team mascot. The crew is so attached to their Leo Rover that, at LunAres, the robot goes by the affectionate name “Leoś” in Polish. Such group dynamics enables to conduct a human-robot interaction pilot study in collaboration with the Silesian University.

Simulation doesn’t end here

As shown, the Leo Rover robot earned its place on the LunAres team for simulating space missions. And speaking of simulations, you might also be interested in another simulated environment. Read our article on free-to-use Gazebo simulation of the ERC Marsyard.

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