Business, Hardware

Robots Act as Gas Station Attendants in Outer Space

The Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) on the International Space Station is underway. A robot instead of just doing maintenance is taking part in technology R&D in a joint operation between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

The International Space Station

The robot, Dextre, no relation to Dexter the forensic crime specialist who moonlights as a serial killer, is more interested in fuel than blood. Dextre is the first to use RRM tools while in orbit. It will be removing fittings used to input various fluids and gases used in the spacecraft.

Frank Cepollina said "The Hubble Space Telescope servicing missions taught us the importance and value of getting innovative, cutting-edge technologies to orbit quickly to deliver great results."

Dextre RobotCSA wrote the software to control Dextre during RRM operations. They developed the robot to perform delicate assembly and maintenance tasks on the station’s exterior as an extension of its 57-foot-long (17.6 meter) robotic arm, Canadarm2.

RRM operations are monitored and remote controlled by flight controllers at Goddard Space Flight Center, Johnson Space Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, and the Canadian Space Agency’s control center in St. Hubert, Quebec.

Each tool that Dextre can use is stowed in its own storage bay until the robot retrieves it. They all have two integral cameras with built-in LEDs which allow mission controllers to see and control the tools.

In-flight servicing has a history of being accomplished by astronauts. Skylab, NASA’s first space station, was repaired in space as early as 1973. Future RRM missions could include the repair and repositioning of orbiting satellites.