No, wait, this doesn’t quite capture our enthusiasm for the achievement – so let me rephrase.
We’re all ecstatic after the flawless execution of the SUPVIS-E experiment yesterday, 8 September! And we are just beginning to realise it – because yesterday, during the experiment, we were all too focused on the steps of the procedure Andreas ‘Andy’ Mogensen was performing. The best thing? The whole time – even before the actual experiment started – we were able to see in the Erasmus high-bay the International Space Station live TV stream: Andy installing the laptops in the Columbus module, Andy floating around with cosmic grace, Andy starting up the robotic control software interface, Andy floating som
e more… How cool is that?! Then Andy connected via the control interface to our local ESTEC dispatching software and all of a sudden the screens of his two laptops were flooded with telemetry and video from our own high-bay.
Due to the user friendliness of our user interface and due to the endless iterations of procedures we went through before the experiment and last but not least due to his excellent training, Andreas was able to run the whole robotic scenario in just 45 minutes. It sounds quick, but let me tell you, those were some very tense 45 minutes, when every member of the team was fully focused on their tasks. While Andreas was controlling Eurobot, our colleagues in ESOC were in control (via the same user interface) of the smaller rover used as a surveyor. Wherever the Eurobot was going, whatever it was doing, the small rover was following, inspecting the environment to provide additional awareness. “Butter smooth” were the words that crossed my mind when, in perfect choreographic sync, right as the big rover was navigating towards the lander, the camera on its smaller cousin was panning to follow its motion.
And… it’s done. Many teams across Europe have contributed to this success and it was a blast working with everyone towards this end. As usual, the experiment itself was just the tip of the iceberg; beneath, supporting it, were the endless iterations, the fears, the small advancements and the big roadblocks, the revelations, the scoping and de-scoping of features that were just too stubborn to fit in… Did I mention the iterations? But in the end it’s a unique and fulfilling shared experience, that led to a great experiment.
To go back to the title, the experiment is completed, but there’s so much still left to do! Data collection and analysis, definition and implementation of the ‘Lessons Learned’… and, of course, there’s always the next experiment. Which has to be more complex, more challenging, even closer to the real-life conditions of a space mission.
I see a beautiful friendship developing. Between the robots, the people that design and control them, and the space that beckons us to explore it.