“Walking” robotic arm on its way to ISS
The International Space Station is about to receive its third robotic arm, which will be capable of "walking" around the Russian segment of the orbital outpost all by itself. The new European-made arm is on its way to the ISS after being launched atop a Russian Proton-M rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Space is an inherently hostile environment for humans, and in order to stay alive we are forced to live inside the pressurized hulls of spacecraft and the cumbersome confines of Extravehicular Mobility Units – commonly known as spacesuits.
In order to help maintain the aging space station, grab incoming spacecraft and help astronauts during their excursions beyond the airlock, the ISS has been fitted with two robotic arms supplied by the Canadian and Japanese space agencies.
Following its launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 14.58 CEST on July 21, a third European-made robotic arm is now making its way to the orbital outpost attached to the new Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module.
This latest addition will be the first robotic arm to service the Russian segment of the ISS and it will also be the first designed to "walk" across the outpost’s outer surface.
The 11-m (36-ft) European Robotic Arm (ERA) is almost completely symmetrical in design, and is joined in the middle by a flexible "elbow’ joint." On each end of the robot are "wrist" connectors, which are capable of interfacing with various payloads, coupling with the space station and transferring data.
Whilst the new Nauka module is set to be ERA’s primary base of operations, the robotic arm will also be able to "walk" hand-over-hand across the station thanks to the flexibility afforded by its seven motorized joints.
In order to move, ERA reaches out with its "free hand" and anchors itself to one of the grappling fixtures installed across the Russian section of the station’s outer hull. It can then release its initial point of connection with the ISS, and repeat the process to move further across the outpost.
The arm is capable of being controlled from both outside and inside of the station, and can handle loads of up to 8,000 kg (17,637 lb) while moving with a precision of within 5 mm. It will also be capable of transporting astronauts and cosmonauts from one work site directly to another by acting as an orbital cherrypicker.
“Moving hand-over-hand around the Russian parts of the Station, the European Robotic Arm will bring more freedom, more flexibility and more skills to space operations,” says ESA Director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker.
After entering low-Earth orbit shortly after launch, Nauka is now on an eight-day journey that will lift it into a higher orbit to reach the ISS. The new module is set to use its engines to autonomously dock to the Zvezda Service Module of the Russian segment of the ISS on July 29.