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Paul Backes


4800 Oak Grove Drive
M/S 82-105

Pasadena, CA 91109





Member of:

347G - Robotic Manipulation and Sampling

Paul G. Backes, Ph.D.

Group Supervisor


Paul Backes is group supervisor of the Mobility and Manipulation group in the Mobility and Robotic Systems Section at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, where he has been since 1987. His current activities focus on automated planetary manipulation, instrument placement, sample acquisition, and sample handling. Early in his career Dr. Backes performed research and development for telerobotic single and dual-arm on-orbit servicing. He then worked on telerobotics for Air Force aircraft maintenance including the design and development of a small robot that could crawl over the surface of large aircraft for automated inspection. He then applied his telerobotics knowledge to development of a distributed operations system for visualization of downlink data and specification of uplink activities for Mars lander and rover missions which was applied to terrestrial field test rovers, Mars Polar Lander mission lander arm command sequence generation, and Mars Exploration Rover mission science activity planning.

Dr. Backes received the BSME degree from U.C. Berkeley in 1982, MSME in 1984 and Ph.D. in 1987 in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University. Dr. Backes received the 1993 NASA Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal for his contributions to space telerobotics, 1993 Space Station Award of Merit, Best Paper Award at the 1994 World Automation Congress, 1995 JPL Technology and Applications Program Exceptional Service Award, 1998 JPL Award for Excellence, 1998 NASA Software of the Year Award Sole Runner-up, 2004 NASA Software of the Year Award, 2008 IEEE Robotics & Automation Technical Field Award, 2014 NASA Honor Award - Exceptional Service Award, 2015 JPL Voyager Award for leadership in comet sample return BiBlade sampling innovation, and 2021 Purdue University Outstanding Mechanical Engineer Alumni Award. He served as an Associate Editor of the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society Magazine from 1993 - 1998.


Ph.D., M.E., Purdue University, 1987
M.S., M.E., Purdue University, 1984
B.S., M.E., University of California at Berkeley, 1982

Professional Experience

- Group Supervisor of Robotic Manipulation and Sampling Group, in Mobility and Robotic Systems section, JPL, 2005 - continuing
- Technical Group Leader, Telerobotics Research & Applications Group, JPL (1991-2005).
- SBIR subtopic manager for robotics subtopics (1994-2001, 2006 - continuing).
- Task Manager for 30+ research tasks at JPL since 1990.
- Lead for 2003 NASA Mars Exploration Rover mission Science Activity Planner tool development.
- Lead for 1998 NASA Mars Polar Lander mission ground operations tool development for Robotic Arm sequence generation.
- Associate Editor of IEEE Robotics and Automation Society Magazine, 5/93 - 5/98.
- Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Senior member.
- Tau Beta Pi national engineering honor society member.

- 1998 Mars Polar Lander: Led development of the Web Interface for Telescience used for lander arm and arm camera visualization and sequence planning.
- 2003 Mars Exploration Rover: Led development of the Science Activity Planner used for downlink data visualization and uplink science activity plan generation.

Research Interests

Automated instrument placement from planetary landers and rover. Automated planetary manipulation for sample acquisition and handling and in-situ resource utilization. On-orbit robotics and telerobotics.


  1. J. Bowkett, D. Kim, J. Nash, D. Moreno, M. Gildner, R. Thakker, K. Wehage, S. Kim, A. Brinkman, B. Emanuel, J. Edlund, B. Ridge, A. Jain, P. Backes, S. Backus, "Demonstration of Autonomous Sampling Techniques in an Icy Moon Terrestrial Analog," 2023 IEEE Aerospace Conference, pp. 1-5, 04 March 2023.
  1. Choukroun, M., Backes, P., Cable, M., Fayolle, E., Hodyss, R., Murdza, A., … Okamoto, T., Riccobono, D., Zacny, K., "Sampling Plume Deposits on Enceladus’ Surface to Explore Ocean Materials and Search for Traces of Life or Biosignatures," The Planetary Science Journal, 2, 20 May 2021.
  2. J. Bowkett, J. Nash, D. Inkyu Kim, S. Kim, R. Thakker, A. Brinkman, Y. Cheng, R. Wilson, C. Lim, A. Gaut, A. Jain, M. Gildner, B. Emanuel, P. Backes, "Functional Autonomy Challenges in Sampling for an Europa Lander Mission," 2021 IEEE Aerospace Conference (50100), Big Sky, MT, USA, pp. 1-8, 06 March 2021.
  3. Badescu, M., Okamoto, T., Backes, P., Moreland, S., Riccobono, D., Kugel, M., Brinkman, A., Choukroun, M., Molaro, J., Newbold, T., Heness, A., "The Dual-Rasp Sampling System Design with Closed Pneumatic Sample Transfer.," IEEE Aerospace Conference Proceedings, pp. 1-11, 06 March 2021.
  1. Dhaouadi, W., Marteau, E., Kolvenbach, H., Choukroun, M., Molaro, J. L., Hodyss, R., Backes, P., Moreland, S., Badescu, M., Okamoto, T., & others., "Robotic Exploration of Enceladus’ Surface: Sampling, Testing, and Modeling," IROS Workshop on Planetary Exploration Robots: Challenges and Opportunities (PLANROBO20), 29 October 2020.
  2. Mathieu Choukroun, Jamie L Molaro, Robert Hodyss, Eloise Marteau, Paul Backes, Elizabeth Megan Carey, Wassim Dhaouadi, Scott Moreland, Erland M Schulson, "Strength evolution of ice plume deposit analogs of Enceladus and Europa," Geophysical Research Letters, Volume 47, 29 July 2020.
  1. S. Karumanchi, K. Edelberg, J. Nash, C. Bergh, R. Smith, B. Emanuel, J. Carlton, J.Koehler, J.Kim, R. Mukherjee, B. Kennedy, P. Backes, "Payload-Centric Autonomy for In-Space Robotic Assembly of Modular Space Structures," Journal of Field Robotics, vol 35, issue 6, pp. 1005-1021, 14 June 2018.
  1. S. Karumanchi, K. Edelberg, I. Baldwin, J. Nash, J. Reid, C. Bergh, J. Leichty, K. Carpenter, M. Shekels, M. Gildner, D. Newill-Smith, J. Carlton, J. Koehler, T. Dobreva, M. Frost, P. Hebert, J, Borders, J. Ma, B. Douillard, P. Backes, B. Kennedy, B. Satzinger, C. Lau, K. Byl, K. Shankar, J. Burdick, "Team RoboSimian: Semi-autonomous Mobile Manipulation at the 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals," Journal of Field Robotics: Special Issue on the 2015 DARPA Robotics Challenge Finals, vol 34, issue 2, pp. 305-332, 18 October 2016.
  1. P. Backes, D. Helmick, M. Bajracharya, M. Raythattha, "Visual Feedback for Rover-based Coring," International Symposium on Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, and Automation in Space (iSAIRAS), 01 January 2008.
  1. M. Bajracharya, M. DiCicco, P. Backes, "Vision-Based End-Effector Position Error Compensation," IEEE Aerospace Conference, 01 March 2006.
  1. P. Backes, A. Diaz-Calderon, M. Robinson, M. Bajracharya, D. Helmick, "Automated Rover Positioning and Instrument Placement," IEEE Aerospace Conference, 01 March 2005.
  1. P. Backes, J. Norris, M. Powell, M. Vona, R. Steinke, J. Wick., "The Science Activity Planner for the Mars Exploration Rover Mission: Fido Field Test Results," Proceedings IEEE Aerospace Conference, Big Sky, Montana., 06 March 2004.
  1. P. Backes, J. Norris, M. Powell, G. Tharp, C. Leger, "Sequence Planning for the FIDO Mars Rover Prototype.," In Proceedings of the 2003 IEEE Aerospace Conference, Big Sky, MT., 08 March 2003.
  1. Paul G. Backes, Kam S. Tso, Jeffrey S. Norris, Gregory K. Tharp, Jeffrey T. Slostad, Robert G. Bonitz, and Khaled S. Ali, "Internet-Based Operations for the Mars Polar Lander Mission," Proc. of the 2000 IEEE International Conference on Robotics & Automation, 01 April 2000.
  2. Y. Bar-Cohen and P. Backes, "Scanning Large Aerospace Structures Using Open-Architecture Crawlers," National Space & Missile Materials Symposium (NSMMS), San Diego, California, 01 February 2000.
  1. P. G. Backes, K. S. Tso, and G. K. Tharp, "The Web Interface for Telescience," Presence: Teleoperators & Virtual Environments, 531-539, 01 October 1999.
  2. Y. Bar-Cohen, P. Backes, "Scanning Aircraft Structures Using Open-Architecture Robotic Crawlers as Platforms with NDT Boards and Sensors," Materials Evaluation, 57(3), 361'366, 01 March 1999.
  1. P. G. Backes, S. F. Peters, L. Phan, and K. S. Tso, "Task Lines and Motion Guides," EEE International Conference on Automation and Robotics, Minneapolis, 22 April 1996.
  1. P. Backes, "Dual-arm Supervisory and Shared Control Task Description and Execution," Robotics and Autonomous Systems, 12, 29-54, 01 January 1994.
  1. P. Backes, G. Leininger, C. Chung, "Joint Self-Tuning with Cartesian Setpoints," ASME Journal of Dynamic Systems, Measurement, and Control, 108, 146'150, 01 June 1986.