Space Robotics for In-Situ Resource Utilization: Needs, Challenges, and Approaches

Space Robotics for In-Situ Resource Utilization Needs, Challenges, and Approaches

IROS On-Demand release date:

October 25th, 2020

Notice from IROS 2020 Organizers:

IROS 2020 will not be held in-person. The safety and well-being of our participants is our priority. With the continued resurgence of COVID-19 within the State of Nevada, in particular Las Vegas, along with the city’s prohibiting large or even moderately-sized public gatherings, it makes it an impossibility to hold the in-person event as originally planned. Instead, IROS On-Demand will be the platform to enjoy and easily access IROS content anywhere, anytime, with any device. IROS On-Demand will be released Oct 25, 2020 and content will be available for 1-month minimum. More details will be released over the next few weeks.


In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) and Space Robotics experts will guide participants through concepts and operations of autonomous space robots in the context of ISRU by way of presentations, demonstrations, and mini-tutorials. ISRU is the practice of extracting, processing, and storing useful resources found at a given location. On terrestrial planetary bodies such as the Moon and Mars, ISRU will enable the affordable establishment of space exploration and operations by minimizing the materials carried from Earth and by developing advanced, autonomous devices to optimize the benefits of available in-situ resources such as regolith. Regolith can be used as a building material to construct habitats and landing pads, or processed to extract Oxygen for breathing and rocket propellant, for example. The tutorials follow a theme discussing the needs for ISRU (what it is and proposed life-cycle), mobility (challenges and current approaches), and finally autonomy (communication issues and challenges unique to resource-denied environments). The session features a Gazebo-based simulation of a lunar excavator that the participants will install as part of the tutorials.


This program consists of video presentations and interactive software tutorials. Videos can be accessed on the Session Videos page.

  • Video 1: Introduction to session - Joe Cloud

  • Video 2: Introduction to ISRU - Dr. Paul van Susante

  • Video 3: Space Mobility and Autonomy for in-situ resources utilization - Dr. Issa Nesnas

  • Video 4: Tutorial 0: Setup - Tiger Sachse

  • Video 5: Tutorial 1: Direct Operation - Tiger Sachse

  • Video 6: Tutorial 2: Delayed Teleoperation - Ronald Marrero

  • Video 7: Tutorial 3: Autonomous Operation - Tiger Sachse



Dr. van Susante grew up in The Netherlands. He graduated with a MSc in Civil Engineering from Delft University of Technology in 2001. He received a MSc in Engineering Systems from the Colorado School of Mines in 2004 and PhD in 2011. Since 2003 he has been involved with ISRU studies and hardware development. He led the development of a first prototype of a lunar bucket ladder, backhoe and performed regolith simulant testing for NASA's RESOLVE rover mission. In 2010 he was a National Space Grant Faculty Fellow at NASA Kennedy Space Center working on lunar landing pad construction methods. His research group and Mining INnovation Enterprise perform research in collaboration with several companies on several multi-year NASA grants on water extraction from rock and buried glaciers on Mars, and water extraction from ice in permanently shadowed craters on the Moon. Other aspects of the research includes the development of robotic systems for excavation and construction for infrastructure placement, bulk material movement, and beneficiation of source material.

Issa Nesnas is a principal technologist in the Mobility and Robotics Systems Section at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For over two decades, he conducted research and led two robotics groups in mobility and software. His experience spans industrial and space robotics, where he contributed to three Mars rover missions. He currently serves on the NASA Capability Leadership Team for Autonomy and the Caltech Center for Autonomous Systems and Technology. Dr. Nesnas co-chaired NASA’s Technology Roadmaps for Robotics and Autonomous Systems. His published work includes contributions to vision-based manipulation, rover navigation, robotic access to extreme-terrain, microgravity mobility, autonomy architectures, and autonomous spacecraft navigation. He is the recipient of the Magellan Award, JPL’s highest award for an individual scientific or technical accomplishment. He holds a B.E. degree in Electrical Engineering and a M.S. and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering with a specialization in Robotics from the University of Notre Dame.


Ronald Marrero is currently a Pathways software engineer with NASA Kennedy Space Center and is pursuing a MS in Computer Science at Georgia Tech. From 2017 - 2018 Ronald worked on the EZ-RASSOR project under the Florida Space Institute while finishing his undergraduate degree. It was there that he learned of the importance of robotics for In-Situ Resource Utilization operations. He is passionate about furthering space exploration via an increased collaboration with humans and robotic systems.

Tiger Sachse (Florida Space Institute) - EZ-RASSOR Maintainer

Tiger Sachse is a software engineer and space enthusiast based in Seattle, Washington. In 2018, he completed his bachelor's degree in Computer Science at the University of Central Florida. During his undergraduate studies, he interned at NASA and led the technical design and development of the EZRASSOR project, an educational version of an in-development mining rover. This rover is capable of autonomously collecting regolith on other planets and depositing this material at an in-situ resource utilization plant, where the regolith can then be transformed into water, air, fuel, or cement. Tiger actively maintains the EZRASSOR project alongside Ronald Marrero. Both men are working to generate interest in and contributions to the project. Ultimately they hope to create significant real-world value in the ISRU field.


Joe Cloud is a PhD student at the University of Texas at Arlington. His research interests are in machine learning and computer vision for space robotics. He is in the pathways program at NASA Kennedy Space Center where his work has focused on autonomous skill acquisition for robotic excavators. Previously, he interned at NASA Langley Research Center, and has worked on hardware in support of the ATLAS experiment at CERN. Joe is an NSF Graduate Research Fellow and was a NASA TSGC Graduate Fellow in 2019. He received his BS degree in computer engineering, summa cum laude, from the University of Texas at Arlington. Joe is passionate about outreach and has mentored several undergraduate students, refereed FIRST Robotics Competitions, and served as a volunteer instructor for data science workshops. He grew up in Morocco where he spoke French and Arabic at school and English at home.

William J. Beksi is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Texas at Arlington. He received the BS degree in mathematics and computer science from Stevens Institute of Technology, and the MS and PhD degrees in computer science from the University of Minnesota. Dr. Beksi is the founder and director of the Robotic Vision Lab. The lab's work has been published in top-tier robotics and computer vision venues, and is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.