NASA's humanoid robot, "Valkyrie," standing at 188 cm tall and weighing 136 kg, was originally developed in response to the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident. In the future, humanoid robots in space may be assigned tasks such as cleaning solar panels or inspecting faulty equipment outside spacecraft, allowing astronauts to prioritize cosmic exploration.
Isaac Asimov, the science fiction writer, envisioned in his robot series the idea of humans sending robots to explore space. Will this idea become a reality?
Today, the 188 cm tall and 136 kg heavy humanoid robot, “Valkyrie,” developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), is undergoing testing at NASA‘s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. The purpose is to operate in “degraded or damaged human-engineered environments,” including scenarios involving natural disasters, with the future potential to work in space.
Inspired by Norse mythology, “Valkyrie” is designed to operate in “degraded or damaged human-engineered environments,” including scenarios involving natural disasters, and potentially in space. The robot was initially created for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Robotics Challenge to address challenges such as those encountered during the Fukushima nuclear plant incident caused by a tsunami.
Humanoid robots, which resemble humans with a torso, head, two arms, and two legs, are believed by engineers to eventually perform tasks similarly to humans with the help of suitable software and the use of comparable tools and equipment.
According to Shaun Azimi, the head of NASA’s Robotic Manipulation Team, humanoid robots in space could potentially handle hazardous tasks like cleaning solar panels or inspecting faulty spacecraft equipment, thereby allowing astronauts to focus on higher-level activities. NASA emphasizes that these robots are not intended to replace human astronauts but rather to free them from tedious, dirty, and dangerous tasks.
NASA has expressed that employing robots to enhance the Artemis program’s return to the Moon could assist in establishing a long-term human presence on the Moon and, eventually, Mars. Through domestic and international commercial collaborations, NASA is working on developing the next generation of human-scale robotic capabilities. The agency is collaborating with robot companies like Apptronik to explore how humanoid robots developed for terrestrial purposes can benefit future space robotic systems.
Currently, Apptronik is developing the humanoid robot “Apollo,” with plans to offer robot products to businesses by early 2025. Apollo is designed to work in warehouses and manufacturing plants on Earth, handling tasks such as parcel handling, pallet stacking, and other supply chain-related activities.
Nick Paine, Chief Technology Officer of Apptronik, highlights Apollo’s advantages over humans, particularly in endurance. The robot is equipped with replaceable batteries, allowing it to work for 4 hours, swap the battery, and resume working. “Our goal is to have this system online 22 hours a day.”
“Robots like Apollo are designed with modularity in mind to adapt to many applications,” says Azimi, emphasizing NASA’s interest in understanding critical differences and identifying areas for future investment to bring ground systems into space environments and gain approval for working in space.