Feb 14, 2019People & Industry

Woodside on a NASA Mission

This story isn’t set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away and there’s no Galactic Empire. But it does feature a robot in distress called R2B and stars two intrepid Woodside adventurers called Andrew and “Pickles” who dash to the rescue.

R2B lives on the International Space Station (ISS), orbiting 500km above earth. Sadly, he was malfunctioning and there was no Luke Skywalker to fix him. So NASA decided to bring R2B home to earth which prompted Houston to issue the call: “Woodside, we have a problem”.

Why Woodside? Well, in 2017 Woodside entered into a five-year program with NASA for the development of robotics technology for Woodside. That program saw a robot called R2C3 (one of NASA’s Robonaut series) transfer to Perth, creating an opportunity to explore value-adding and improve risk management as well as swapping expertise. R2B, the older brother of R2C3, was deployed in 2011 to the ISS as its flight unit.

But R2B developed an intermittent power fault which couldn’t be fixed in space. In May 2018, R2B was returned to the Johnson Space Center in Houston for a bit of TLC. But the Center’s workforce was under a heavy workload so NASA asked Woodside if we had a communications technician and electrical engineer to help.

Andrew Corrigan and senior communications technician Michael “Pickles” Peters were chosen.

“We haven’t got the robotics skills they have at NASA, Andrew acknowledges. “But what we do possess is the skill sets to come up with simple solutions quickly”.

“That’s what oil and gas engineers excel at and that’s certainly what we do in Operations”.

For seven weeks, Andrew and Michael swapped Operations for Mission Control, operations risk assessment for the space station interface document, and the Shelf for Starbucks. Michael describes the experience as “truly amazing”.

“At first it was daunting, but the skills I had obtained working with communications and electronics throughout my career were able to be transferred to repairing these state of the art robots”, he says.

The pair worked with NASA engineers to come up with solutions for R2B’s problem. In the last week of their stay, they helped present the team’s solutions to NASA engineers and project leads to gain approval for R2B’s repair plan. The presentation was a success and the repair and re-commissioning of R2B is underway.

“NASA’s approach to designing robots and our approach to fixing things came up with the best solution”, Andrew explains.

He says the pair captured invaluable lessons for Woodside as the company takes robots into operations. Since returning, Michael and Andrew have passed on their knowledge, helping draft a deployment process for robots at Woodside.

Ryan Beccarelli, general manager – operations support, recently remote-operated a robot on the North Rankin Complex from the Perth office.

“The experience exceeded my expectations”, Ryan reports. “This demonstrated the capability not only for emergency response, but also for collaborative robots to assist operations in daily tasks such as conducting Operator Proactive Monitoring (OPAM) rounds, thereby freeing up the human operator to complete more interesting and valuable work”.

image courtesy of Woodside

story originally published by Woodside

The natural gas industry directly employs thousands of Australians and continues to create jobs in local communities across the country. Not only that, industry jobs are well-paid. That’s great for those with jobs related to natural gas, but it also helps keep local communities running too.