NASA JSC: Robotic Manipulation for Autonomous Lunar Operations at NASA


The Dexterous Robotics Laboratory (ER4) at NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) aimed to develop advanced robot demonstrations showcasing autonomous Lunar-based cargo unloading and handling. Their objective was to illustrate the robot’s ability to seamlessly transfer Cargo Transfer Bags (CTBs) from a resupply vehicle to the interior storage of a Lunar Habitat. By conducting these demonstrations on Earth within a controlled laboratory environment, they could gain essential insights into robotic operations within the size-constrained interior of space vehicles. This knowledge would enhance the robot’s efficiency in completing tasks within the unique conditions of a space vehicle. The research conducted by ER4 held significant importance for the architecture of future space missions, particularly those with substantial uncrewed components.


NASA JSC required a tangible hardware and software prototype of their vehicle, known as the Integrated Mobile Evaluation Testbed for Robotics Operation (iMETRO). Their primary objective was to design and implement motion plans and robot Behaviors capable of demonstrating the movement of a UR10e robot along a rail within a physical environment. This encompassed executing various interactions with the surroundings and the transportation of the CTB bag. To accomplish this, they needed to create simulations and conduct real-world testing using actual robots. Specific tasks involved in this endeavor included the semi-autonomous operation of hatch doors through unlatching a cranking handwheel, manipulating open/close hatch doors, opening/closing of storage benches, and the transfer of CTBs to and from the vehicle’s storage and resupply capsule.


MoveIt Pro offered a versatile solution to their challenge. It allowed them to develop and refine robot interactions in both a simulated and physical environment, create Behaviors and motion plans, and seamlessly translate these into real-world applications. This bridging of virtual and physical realms proved especially valuable when demonstrating how the UR10e robot arm could efficiently perform cargo transfers. In essence, MoveIt Pro simplified their development process and provided a clear path for integrating robotics into their project.

Robotic Manipulation for Autonomous Lunar Operations at NASA


Thanks to MoveIt Pro, NASA JSC ER4 achieved significant advancements in intravehicular robotics for lunar cargo logistics within the Artemis program. By combining Behaviors developed by PickNik and their own team, they successfully demonstrated the system’s capabilities. Furthermore, the ER4 engineering team received training from PickNik, enabling them to create MoveIt Pro Behaviors and configurations. This expertise positions them for continued success in future test configurations, highlighting the tangible benefits of their solution.