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Teaser, summary, work performed and final results

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FACILITATORS (Facilities for testing orbital and surface robotics building blocks)


Through the Space Robotics Technologies Strategic Research Cluster (SRC), the European Commission’s goal is to enable major advances in space robotic technologies for future on-orbit satellite servicing and for the exploration of the surfaces of the other bodies in our solar...


Through the Space Robotics Technologies Strategic Research Cluster (SRC), the European Commission’s goal is to enable major advances in space robotic technologies for future on-orbit satellite servicing and for the exploration of the surfaces of the other bodies in our solar system.
In the current first stage of the SRC implementation, a number of parallel operational grants have been financed, that aim at producing a number of validated common robotics building blocks, whichwill be re-used and integrated for future space robotics missions.

The goal of FACILITATORS project (OG6) has been to provide the means and facilities so that the building blocks that are produced by each OG (1 to 5) can be correctly validated, and more specifically:
• Enabling the highest possible level of validation of the common building blocks (to be developed by all the other operational grants) in the most relevant environment by adapting and providing the best available European test facilities needed by each technology or combination of technologies/domains (with minimal duplication of means and activities), as well as
• Guaranteeing coherence among the different test facilities and among the building blocks by establishing common implementation/validation scenarios (to be reproduced during ground testing) and common interfaces with the test facilities.

The project has been named FACILITATORS: FACILIties for Testing (at) ORbital and Surface robotics building blocks. The name would like to stress that our project allows maximising the outputs of the other building blocks, as the definition of our acronym reads:
facilitator: one that helps to bring about an outcome (as learning, productivity, or communication) by providing indirect or unobtrusive assistance, guidance, or supervision
[Definition: Mirriam Webster Dictionary].
While each OG realizes an independent verification and validation, FACILITATORS have closely worked with the other OGs in order to allow that the specific validation needs, up to system level while in relation to selected demonstration scenario, can be covered by the facilities that have been made available.

Work performed

The project is based on the use of some of the best European robotic test facilities that have been adapted and upgraded in order to cope with the needs of the client OGs.
At the beginning of the project a set of questionnaires has been sent to all the OGs in order to collect their validation needs and allow the formulation of validation requirements. With this information a list of validation requirements per each OG for both the Orbital and Planetary tracks scenarios has been prepared. This document has been the baseline for the entire activity.
With the help of the D1.1 “FACILITATORS Catalogue”, which has been prepared in order to present the available facilities, a repartition of responsibility in the team has been possible, identifying in agreement with each OGs the facilities that better suit their validation needs.
Afterwards, the team has performed the design of the adaptations/upgrades to the facilities and the detailed specifications of the test scenarios, always in close cooperation with the other operational grants.

The next step has been the implementation of the adaptations/upgrades and finally the support to the test campaigns of each OG.
The organization of the field tests of the planetary track of OG2 and OG3 in Morocco has been quite challenging and required also the inclusion of new partner (IRSPS) in the consortium, but eventually resulted very successful, allowing OG2 to perform a long traverse (1.3 Km) with high level of autonomy.
In parallel, the partners have participated in dissemination activities to diseminate the FACILITATORS ideas, goals and results to scientific, industrial communities as well as the general public and to maintain a constant communication within the consortium and outside it.

Final results

The current trend is towards more and more autonomy in space missions, thereby increasing robotics presence. State of the art facilities, like the one we offer in this federation, must be used for these validation activities, therefore the FACILITATORS team (also with the possible inclusion of other facilities) aims at providing services and/or advice to the space robotics sector also after the end of the project.
The considered test facilities in FACILITATORS have been already existing test facilities developed in the past by industry and institutions to cover in-house testing and validation needs. Its use within FACILITATORS has demonstrated that:
- The facilities are applicable to other (similar) scenarios than those considered for its original design and set-up with effort-limited updates.
- The facilities can be used by 3rd party users/developers provided adequate interface requirements and operations support by the facility host/responsible.
- Certain procedures about discussing the test definition, test preparation and test execution have been put in place and commonly used. Inter-communication and networking has been very intense. All involved FACILITATORS entities and actors (from external users to testing facilities engineers and going through entities management and safety/insurance aspects) are now prepared to quickly and efficiently discuss new test cases and testing collaboration.
On the other hand, those existing testing facilities do already have a busy agenda as result of being regularly used to provide in-house validation and testing environments. This has some advantages (e.g. guarantee that the facilities will keep operative and maintained in the medium- and long-term timeframes) and some drawbacks (e.g. limited availability and limited host interest to offer them on a pure commercial basis).
As conclusion regarding the future use of the FACILITATORS test facilities:
- After the FACILITATORS activities, all involved test facilities hosts/owners have expressed its availability to discuss (mainly at the time of proposals preparation) collaborations with 3rd partners into ESA or EC initiatives either on an isolated manner or as continuation of the FACILITATORS test facilities net.
- Some of the facilities hosts/owners (GMV’s orbital dynamic platform-art© test facility and ADS Mars Yard and ADS rovers) have also expressed their availability and wish to provide pure commercial testing support and consultancy inside or outside ESA/EC activities frame and either during the proposals preparation or after project confirmation/awarding. It shall be noted that GMV’s orbital dynamic platform-art© test facility is being used in this modality from more than 5 years and with several commercial clients from outside Europe.
- Another possibility for the facilities that are being extensively used for internal in-house validations, and are therefore not available for pure commercial use, is the transfer of the technology to an industrial partner who intends to offer the validation functionality as a service.

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