Fascinating things can come true through technology, and space robots are a prime example of that. Being high-tech machines, there are lots of amazing facts about space robots that will amaze us. Moreover, space robots will also allow us to explore the realms of the outer space, which is something that not all humans can have access to. In an event where astronauts are present, space robots can assist them and even act as their surrogates for the astronauts.
Nowadays, with the advantage of technology, launching a robot into space is not something uncommon anymore. In fact, humans have been doing it for nearly half a century! Currently, there are various space robots with different designs that can carry out different purposes in space. And do you know that you can also help to make a space robot? Find out more about it, plus other astounding facts about space robots, right here. So make sure to stick around, because we’ve got loads of it!
1. Russia Can be Proud – Their Sputnik 1 was the First Ever Space Robot
To start with the first fact about space robots, we would like to take you back to many years ago. Some of you may be too young to experience it, but back then, the USA and Russia (better known as USSR) had an extreme cold war. The race for conquering space is one of their agendas, too. However, the USSR can take the W on this one, because they have beaten the USA and launched the Sputnik 1 into space.
There are some reasons as to why the Russia launched Sputnik. The official reason was because it was used to correspond with the International Geophysical Year, a solar period deemed to be ideal for launching artificial satellites. Unofficially, it was used as bragging rights by beating the USA. The launch of Sputnik on October 4, 1957, was the ignition that started the infamous “space race”. At first, Sputnik 1 was able to orbit the earth and become the first ever artificial Earth satellite. It really is an important milestone in human history!
2. The USA Also Launched Their First Ever Space Robot, FURTHER!
Moving on to the next fact about space robots, Although Sputnik is as the first ever space robot, the Mariner robots, released by the United States, can be proud of themselves and their achievements, too. In 1962, the American space probe Mariner 2 became the first ever space robot to fly by Venus! During the mission, Mariner 2 was able to make discoveries about the planet. It was also able to measure the solar wind, a constant stream of charged particles flying from the sun.
Although the Mariner 2 has made a lot of important discoveries, they failed to return any photographic evidence. However, this feat was successfully completed three years later by the Mariner 4. It was the first space robot to successfully fly by Mars and return with close-up images of the amazing planet! What an awesome fact about space robots, right?
3. After They Accomplish a Mission, They Won’t Have to Return to Earth
You must have recognized the infamous army term that says, “no man left behind”. However, for spacecrafts, this concept is actually an alien! In fact, once the space robots successfully completed their mission, they are no longer active and left behind in outer space. If the mission is just to explore the space and taking pictures of it, then there is no reason to spend loads of money just to bring them back! Some of them might even have a dramatic ending, just like the Cassini spacecraft that collided with Saturn’s ring back in 2017.
However, there are several occasions in which a space robot returned to Mother Earth. Back in 2021, NASA managed to bring back a rover from Mars. This space robot was able to collect some space rocks for further research and study.
4. Humanoid Space Robots Exist, and They Have a Special Purpose
Back in its first inception, space robots didn’t have any resemblance to human beings. It just looked like Wall-e from that very popular animated movie. But nowadays, scientists feel the need to develop a space robot with a similar anatomy to us humans. These humanoid robots can do some things that normal space robots can’t. They can also help to simulate a preparation for human settlement in the future.
Bearing that thought in mind, NASA then created Robonaut 2 or R2, the first humanoid robot launched in space. Although it has been launched, further testing and developments are still in progress at the ISS (International Space Station).
5. Sending a Space Robot is Cheaper than Sending an Astronaut
The reason why space robots are more preferable than astronauts, is mainly due to budgetary reasons. During the Obama administration, sending an astronaut to space can cost the country $150 billion. If they choose to send a space robot instead, they can save a lot more. After all, it only costs them around $450 million, fairly cheaper than the first option, right?
The question still remains: why is sending space robots cheaper than astronauts? For starters, robots don’t need air and food. Not sending it constantly to the space station can save a lot of money. Secondly, a space robot doesn’t need to return after finishing a mission either!
6. Every Planet in the Solar System has Been Visited by Space Robots
Up to this very day, astronauts are only able to set their foot on the Moon. This is the limitation that robotic explorers don’t seem to possess. All of the planets in our Solar System were visited at least once by a space robot. Out of all those planets, Venus and Mars (which are our closest neighbors) have the most visits.
The Mariner 10 was the only spacecraft to ever visit Mercury. Uranus and Neptune have also been visited once by a space robot. Jupiter and Saturn were visited more frequently than the former planets, though it’s not as often as Venus and Mars. Because of these visitations and explorations, we’ve come to a better understanding of the planets.
7. Space Robots Have Recently Exited Our Solar System
It took some time, but space robots have finally reached interstellar space. These amazing achievements were made by a pair of twin space robots, the Voyager 1 and 2. The two space robots were launched in August 1977. It wasn’t until 2012 that Voyager 1 successfully exited the solar system’s northern hemisphere. In 2018, Voyager 2 followed suit. Voyager 2 was a little bit left behind because it had an extra mission, hence a detour took place. By exiting the solar system, Voyager 1 has officially become the most distant spacecraft from Earth. As of 2021, Voyager 1 has reached a distance of 23 billion kilometers from Earth!
8. How Can a Space Robot Last for a Very Long Time?
The more you think about this question, the more confused you’ll get. After all, vehicles and other machines can operate for a limited time period. But space robots, like the Voyager twins, have been able to be fully-functional for almost 50 years now! And no, they didn’t use any solar power, as they are very far away from the sun.
This kind of space robot is powered with radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTG). Each Voyagers have three RTG inside, using Plutonium 238 as their fuel source. As an isotope decays, it will produce heat that will convert to electrical energy. It’s the reason why these space robots are still in action to this day. So amazing!
9. Space Robots are Very Far Away, But They Can Transmit Signals and Information Back to Earth
This one fact might be one of the questions that many people often ask about space robots. Getting a signal for our phone can be hard. It is only natural to ask the question: how on Earth (no pun intended) can a space robot transmit a signal, even if they’re already so far away? Turns out, space robots use the Deep Space Network (DSN), which basically consists of compiled huge antennas. Some of these antennas can measure up to 230 foot tall to cover a larger distance. That’s the reason why, despite the “long distance relationship”, we’re still able to be in contact with our brave explorers.
10. Meet Astronaut’s Little Helper, the Astrobee
Astronauts who stayed in the International Space Station have a lot of things to do. Despite all the mathematical and scientific research, they also need to do some daily chores to keep the place clean. That’s where this adorable space robot comes to help: the Astrobee. Astrobee consists of three cubed-shaped robots with a software and docking station for recharging.
With the cool robot, astronauts won’t have to spend a lot of time doing routine activities. Thus, they can focus on doing things that only humans are capable of. For your information, the three robots that formed Astrobee are Bumble, Honey, and Queen. Each robot carries a perching arm to grasp station handrails to conserve energy and help out astronauts.
11. You Can Take Part in the Amazing Space Robotic Challenge
Brace yourselves, young ones! Previously, NASA and Space Center Houston had launched an awesome challenge to brilliant programmers all around the world. The competition took place in a software simulation environment, and it includes two different phases. There was a prize pool of up to $1,000,000 too!
The first phase concluded in 2017, and it centered around developing software to increase the quality of R5 humanoid robot’s movement in a virtual Mars environment. The top 20 finalists will then move on to the second phase of the space robots tournament, where they face the same challenge. In the interval, there was a live robotics competition for elementary to high school students, too.
12. Autonomous Space Robots are on Their Way!
We have finally come to the last fact about space robots. As advanced as space robots are, they are all still dependent on us. But this limitation can soon be forgotten, as scientists are currently finding a way to make autonomous space robots. Currently, NASA is teaming up with Made in Space to develop Archinaut One.
If the project goes according to plan, then Archinaut One will become the first autonomous space robot that can manufacture and assemble itself as well as other materials in space. We also hope that this space robot will be able to repair and defend itself from potential threats in space.