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The University of Southampton

ELEC6250 Robotic (Autonomous) Aerospace Vehicles

Module Overview

This module will be first offered in the 2020/21 academic year. Robotics plays an important part in the development and operation of autonomous aerospace vehicles. The robotic element may consist of a complete vehicle either in outer space or on a planetary surface (e.g. a Martian rover) or a specific component (e.g. the ISS robotic arm). The module will examine design, construction and operation of such system. The students will gain an understanding of the challenges involved developing such a system, as well as operating at significant distances from the earth.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The challenges of developing robotic system for use in LEO or in deep space.
  • Dynamics during a mission including launch, cruise and reentry.
  • Consider developed systems, and their operation requirements.
  • System architecture of robotic systems.
  • Current and future trend in design and application.
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Development of robotic simulations, when operating under zero gravity.


Introduction Rational: Why robotics - advantages and disadvantages of robotics compared to humans. Exemplar missions: LEO, lunar and planetary. Challenges Space and Planetary Environment Launch; Lower earth orbit, including debris issues; Interplanetary Space Lunar environment; Rocky planets; Gas giants and their moons; Other bodies • Free–flyer applications Manipulation Introduction to manipulator kinematics, including DH transformations. Low level control, velocity control Arm dynamics; Newton–Euler dynamics Grippers and other end effectors (drills, surface samplers) In-orbit operations ISS robotic provision; Robonaut; microgravity operation Robotic support for EVA Space craft capture and disposal. Mobility of planetary surfaces Mobility issues Wheeled locomotion, vehicle–ground interface; forces; control; forces; required torque and power; suspension. Non–wheeled options:Walking machines; other possible options. Possible applications for swarm robotics. Actuators, sensors and power Linear and rotary actuators. Sensors – forces, vision; chemical etc. Power generation and distribution: Batteries, solar cells, nuclear. Control HCI Tele-operation; Latency; Virtual reality Trajectory planning Autonomous task planning Artificial Intelligence

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Lecture notes will be provided as will be specific academic papers that will form part of the directed reading. Use will be made of Matlab together with specific robotic toolboxes to simulate specific systems.

Preparation for scheduled sessions18
Follow-up work18
Wider reading or practice36
Completion of assessment task104
Total study time222

Resources & Reading list

da Fonseca, I. M. & Pontuschka, M. N. (2015). The State-of-the-art in Space Robotics. Journal of Physics: Conference Series. ,641 .

W.W. Mendell (2004). The roles of humans and robots in exploring the solar system. Acta Astronautica. ,55(2) .

Yoshida, Kazuya (2009). Achievements in space robotics. IEEE Robot. Automat. Mag.. ,16.4 , pp. 20-28.

S. Ahsan Badruddin and S. M. Dildar Ali (2014). Recent Developments in the Optimization of Space Robotics for Perception in Planetary Exploration. Presented in the International Conference on Space. .

Peter Corke. Robotics, Vision and Control Fundamental: Algorithms in MATLAB. 



MethodPercentage contribution
Examination  (2 hours) 75%
Simulation 25%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework assignment(s) 25%
Examination 75%


MethodPercentage contribution
Coursework assignment(s) 25%
Examination  (2 hours) 75%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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