Use the force, Luke

Researchers at NASA are working on a Personal Satellite Assistant; a technology that originally drew its inspiration from two sources: a 1995 flight experiment that demonstrated how wireless computer networks would work in space, and the film Star Wars.

According to Yuri Gawdiak, principal researcher for the project, the PSA has been designed to help with menial tasks on space missions, such as monitoring levels of oxygen and air pressure.

The PSA will be equipped with numerous sensors, cameras, microphones, a display panel and six fans for propulsion. In essence, the PSA will give the crew another set of eyes and ears, said Gawdiak.

Similar sensors are already installed on the shuttle, but they can only operate in fixed positions.

Gawdiak believes the PSA’s main advantage will be its ability to float to cramped trouble spots immediately, hone in on dangerous areas and remedy problems on demand.

Astronauts could use the device as an advance scout before entering a space module, sending the PSA in to check the quarters for toxic gas or temperature instability.

Gawdiak hopes the PSA will make future space missions more efficient and more productive for crewmembers.

The robot will have a camera for videoconferencing, as well as wireless network connections and navigation sensors, allowing it to work autonomously.

Gawdiak added that a key role for the PSA would be its ability to act as a liaison between the crew and ground controllers.

Ground controllers would be able to move the PSA into a desired location, where on-board sensors can check the status of experiments or communicate with the crew.

PSAs will also be able to provide ground control with remote views of mission operations.