Deployment of robots will revolutionize space exploration in the coming years, both for manned and unmanned missions. It has become universally accepted that in order to increase the number, scope, and innovation of space missions, reusable, component-based software needs to be developed. That is, complex robot and flight software can be developed concurrently and more robustly by utilizing a common framework of shared software libraries and tools. Thus, components developed by different organizations for different missions can be shared and reused because all components use the same abstracted API to the underlying hardware, including a common communication bus. A variety of programming frameworks have been created over the years that do just this.
The goal of TRACLabs and the Applied Physics Laboratory is to integrate two such frameworks--NASA's cFS (core Flight System) and Open Robotics' ROS 2--in order to leverage the advantages of each system, while helping validate ROS 2 for space flight in a measured way. cFS has a proven track record for supporting embedded, Class-B space systems, but it does not contain nearly the number of applications that exist in the ROS ecosystem. ROS is useful for quickly building state-of-the-art robot systems that use a large number of cutting-edge algorithms for perception, localization, manipulation, and human-robot interaction; however, little concern is given to resource usage (memory, CPU, bandwidth), longevity, or even failure recovery by individual ROS component developers. The new ROS 2 framework, which is built on DDS message passing middleware, has the potential to eventually replace cFS for robotic flight systems. In the meantime, advanced algorithms written by the ROS 2 community should not be ignored by upcoming NASA missions. By combining cFS for safety-critical components with ROS 2 for advanced-data-processing components, near-term space systems can benefit by achieving more autonomy and more scientific discovery.
Multiple near- and far-term missions will benefit from the technologies of this project, including: ISS robots like Astrobee and R2, lunar rovers like VIPER, the Lunar Gateway, OSAM systems like Restore-L and the Robotic Refueling Missions, Orbital Debris Mitigation, Artemis, the Lunar Surface Science Mobility System, Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS), Mars sample return, New Frontiers exploration mission opportunities like Titan or Europa, and various STMD technology demonstrations.
Other organizations that utilize cFS, like JAXA, KARI, Astrobotic, and the Air Force SMC, will benefit from this technology. NASA contractors that almost exclusively use ROS for software development, like Tethers, Motiv Space Systems, Honeybee Robotics, and Oceaneering, could also benefit from improved validation, verification, and integration of their systems into safety-critical space missions.