Robots in Space

Mars Curiosity Rover

Space is a hostile environment. There is no air and, with little or no atmosphere for protection, everything gets very hot when the sun shines and very cold when it doesn’t. Robots can handle these conditions much better than astronauts can. They are also cheaper to operate, because they require no life-support system and can be left behind after a mission. Everything they have found out can simply be sent back to Earth by radio. But robots that explore remote planets such as Mars need a lot of intelligence. Remote control is not possible because instructions from Earth take several minutes to reach them. Once they have landed, they are on their own.

Since the launch of the first satellite Sputnik 1 in 1957, robots have been used used to explore space. These Early space machines, although cutting-edge at the time, were mainly remote-controlled and had little to no autonomy. Todays robots are very different to these early machines, computing power and circuit miniaturisation has allowed designers to create robots capable of doing useful tasks in space that previously we could only have imagined doing.

The following sections present a number of important space robots and discusses their importance in our continued exploration of space.


Designed by NASA and General Motors

NASA and General Motors have joined forces to develop a new version of NASA’s humanoid robot astronaut. Robonaut-2 or R2, was first demonstrated to the public on 4th February 2010. The aim of the Robonaut project is to investigate technologies that can be used in space exploration to help and improve safety for astronauts. Read More

Spirit and Opportunity RoversSpirit and Opportunity Rovers

Designed by Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Mission (MER), is an ongoing robotic space mission involving two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, exploring the planet Mars. It began in 2003 with the sending of the two rovers — MER-A Spirit and MER-B Opportunity — to explore the Martian surface and geology. Read More


Designed by Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

Sojourner is the name given to the first robotic roving vehicle to be sent to the planet Mars. Sojourner weighs 11.0 kg (24.3 lbs.) on earth (about 9 lbs. on Mars) and is about the size of a child’s small wagon. The Microrover has six wheels and can move at speeds up to 0.6 meters (1.9 feet) per minute. Read More