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space robots - international space station

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international space station [iss], a truly international mission - the space robots Canadarm2, Mobile Base System, two-armed robot Dextre, rail track. Image: CSA

The mission taking off tomorrow, Tuesday 11 March, in the Space Shuttle Endeavour, will include a Japanese storage module, a high-tech Canadian robot with 11-foot-long arms, and a seven-man crew.

There will also be included in the shuttle’s payload some small boomerangs, which Japanese astronaut Takao Doi will throw to determine whether they will return in weightless conditions.

And just launched from Guiana space station, on a special heavy-weight version of the Ariane 5 rocket, is the European Space Agency’s contribution to the International Space Station [ISS] - the first unmanned, Automated Transfer Vehicle, Jules Verne. This space freighter will wait in a holding position until the Endeavour has left before docking with the Space Station.

  • giant Canadian two-armed robot

Dextre, the dual-armed robot contributed by Canada. Image: Canadian Space Agency
[click on image to go to larger version]

    “Dextre-which cost more than 200 million U.S. dollars-was created by the same Canadian team that built the space shuttle and space station robot arms [Canadarm1 and Canadarm2].

    “Equipped with a tool holster, Dextre is designed to assist spacewalking astronauts and, ultimately, to take over some of their dangerous outdoor work.

    “Dextre can pivot at the waist, and has seven joints per arm. Its hands, or grippers, have built-in socket wrenches, cameras, and lights. Only one arm is designed to move at a time to keep the robot stable and avoid a two-arm collision. The robot has no face or legs and, with its long arms, certainly doesn't look human.

    “Space station astronauts will be able to control Dextre, as will flight controllers on the ground. The robot [Dextre] will be attached at times to the end of the space station arm [Canadarm2], and also be able to ride by itself along the space station arm's railway.

Exploded configuration of the International Space Station. Image: European Space Agency
[click on image to go to larger version]
Canadarm 2 and Dextre both run on a railway track that extends the length of the ISS.
Video of the robotic Canadarm 1 at work on the Space Shuttle.

At present, humans are faster and can use more tools. The Canadian robot arm can be operated remotely from the Space Station, or from the ground.

“The Japanese module is the first of two that will make up an entire wing of the space station, a state-of-the-art addition that will complement U.S. and European research modules.”

“Japan is supplying three critical components to the station, known collectively as Kibo, or Hope, in English. The centerpiece of the Japanese addition is the huge Japanese Experiment Module that will be bolted to the left side of the Harmony connecting module in late May. The smaller pressurized module carried aloft by Endeavour will serve as a logistics depot and ultimately will be mounted to a port on the lab module's outboard upper end.”

  • Jules Verne space freighter
  • “The European Space Agency [ESA] successfully launched the Jules Verne Automated Transfer Vehicle, or ATV, Saturday evening from Kourou, French Guiana, atop powerful Ariane 5 rocket. The ATV, carrying more than 10,000 pounds of equipment and supplies - about three times the cargo of an unmanned Russian Progress freighter - is scheduled to dock at the station April 3, after Endeavour is back on Earth.” [Quoted from]

Marker at

    “The 32-foot (10-meter) long cylinder with a diameter of about 14.7 feet (4.5 meters) and a roomy cargo hold for food, clothes, new equipment and rocket fuel for the ISS.”

    “ESA partner nations have spent 1.3 billion euros ($1.9 billion) developing the spacecraft as part of a barter system to send future European astronauts and experiments to the ISS.” [Quoted from]

Marker at

    The ATV is unmanned and automated, using GPS technology to arrive 300 metres from the space station, then doing its final docking with visual sensors. Once docked, the astronauts will unload the cargo (using conduits for the air and water), then load it up with trash from the station. During its 6-month stay, the ATV will burn fuel in its booster rockets to move the space station to a higher orbit (the orbit of the space station gradually decays over time).

    After 6 months, the ATV will be sent Earthwards, where it with break up in to many small pieces over the Pacific Ocean.

International Space Station facts and figures

  • dimensions: 111 x 89 m (including solar panels)
  • mass: 445 tonnes
  • habitable space: 1200 m3
  • solar panels: nearly one acre, providing electricity to six laboratories
  • orbital inclination: 51.5947° relative to the Equator
  • orbital period: 90 minutes
  • speed: approx. 26,720 km/h
  • estimated cost: $28 billion
  • altitude: between 335 km to 460 km above the Earth
  • estimated cost: $28 billion
  • participating countries: Canada, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States.

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