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Humanoid robotic arm lifts off to service space station

Posted: 13 Mar 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:space robot? space shuttle operation? space station maintenance?

A humanoid robotic arm with unprecedented dexterity for a space robotthe Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, or Dextrehas been launched aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour en route to the International Space Station. The orbiter is also carrying the Japanese Kibo laboratory module.

Dextre's tasks
Dextre has has an upper body that pivots at the waist and shoulders that support two identical arms, each with a hand with seven joints.

Along with attaching the new component for the Kibo laboratory to the International Space Station, the crew will install and begin testing Dextre, which will become the primary tool for maintaining and servicing the space station.

Dextre is equipped with two separate arms, each equipped with lights, video recorders, tool platforms and four tool holders. Using touch-sensitive tool platforms, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said Dextre will be able to assemble and repair space station equipment that previously required lengthy space walks by astronauts.

Dextre joins an existing Canadian robot arm on the space station, the Space Station Remote Manipulator System, called Canadarm2. Dextre can either ride on the end of Canadarm2 or operate independently on the Mobile Base System while Canadarm2 delivers parts for Dextre to assemble. The crew can remotely control Dextre, Canadarm2 and the Mobile Base Station, the space agency said.

Made in human form
Like the Canadarm2, Dextre was built by MD Robotics. But Dextre was designed to perform intricate maintenance and servicing tasks that until now only astronauts have been able to perform. It also mimics the human form. Along with a rotating waist and shoulders, each arm has seven joints and a "hand" dubbed the Orbital Replacement Unit/Tool Changeout Mechanism.

A set of parallel, retractable jaws can grip tools, plus each hand has a retractable motorized socket wrench, lights and a monochrome camera. Dextre's lower body includes pan-and-tilt color cameras for monitoring repairs.

NASA said routine tasks to be performed by Dextre include: installation and removal of small payloads such as batteries, power supplies and computers; providing power and data connectivity to payloads; and manipulating, installing, removing and inspecting science projects.

- R. Colin Johnson
EE Times

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