Russia launches new ‘walking’ robot arm module to the International Space Station

The robot arm will reach the International Space Station on 28 July

Adam Smith
Wednesday 21 July 2021 17:15
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A Proton rocket launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan today, taking the European Robotic Arm (ERA) payload to the International Space Station.

The 11-meter long robot has been folded and attached to the Multipurpose Laboratory Module, also called ‘Nauka’, that will be its home base when it reaches the ISS.

The rocket put Nauka and the ERA into orbit at 16:08pm GMT, ten minutes after liftoff, at an altitude of nearly 200 kilometres above the Earth.

The ISS already has two robotic arms, which are used to berth spacecraft and transfer payloads and astronauts, but neither arm can each the Russian segment, the European Space Agency said.

Instead, the ERA will ‘walk’ around the Russian parts of the orbital complex, handling components up to 8000 kilograms, and transport astronauts when it eventually reaches the station.

“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,” said ESA Director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker in a statement.

“We are giving the Space Station a mid-life upgrade after 20 years in orbit through our Columbus 2030 programme – an opportunity to modernise space with a commercial approach.”

Nauka will take eight days to reach the ISS, when it will use its engines to dock automatically with the Russian segment. Five spacewalks will be necessary to get it ready to perform its first space operations, which can be handled by astronauts from both inside and outside the ISS - something no other robotic arm offers.

Over its first year on the Space Station, the ERA’s main tasks in orbit are to install a large radiator and set up the airlock for Nauka. 

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