Spacecraft design tests even ambitious engineering teams. The rigors of space flight place qualitative demands on hardware and software far beyond what's required for Earth-bound gear. But nothing's perfect. Even in space, things break; things run low on fuel; things need to be updated. What to do?
In January of 2013, NASA's Robotic Refueling Mission completed a major test at the International Space Station. Using the Canadian Robot arm called Dextre, controllers at the Johnson Space Center and engineers at the Goddard Space Flight Center demonstrated new
Robotic refueling is challenging. Before a satellite leaves the ground, technicians fill its fuel tank through a valve that's then triple-sealed and covered with a protective blanket&mdashdesigned never to be accessed again. RRM paves the way for a future robotic servicing mission by demonstrating that a remote-controlled robot can overcome these obstacles to service and refuel a satellite on orbit. A joint effort between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), this mission will use the station's robotic arm known as Dextre to conduct these experiments. Normally employed for maintenance of the orbiting superstructure, Dextre becomes experimental hardware in RRM, pushing the limits of robotic teleoperation. It's a first step to making routine robotic servicing on orbit a reality.
The prospect of robots in space tantalizes NASA engineers with extraordinary possibility. Powerful and sophisticated, these tools may be able to extend the working lives of aging spacecraft, something that would profoundly change the way we manage expensive flight hardware. The Robotic Refueling Mission tests this proposition with a battery of demonstrations, culminating in the marquee event. in this video we take a look at the progress made through the mission leading up to the final stage.
Day One of the Robotic Refueling Mission comes to a successful close. NASA engineers at the Goddard Space Flight Center and the Johnson Space Center put a robot to work outside the International Space Station, and successfully complete initial mission goals for the day.
Robots present certain advantages when working in the harsh environment of space. They're not susceptible to hunger, to sleepiness, or catastrophic injury for starters. They're also capable of highly precise, yet highly tedious tasks— tasks that might otherwise consume huge resources and attention from already busy astronauts and ground controllers. In an important demonstration of new technical methodologies, NASA engineers will try to simulate the transfer of fuel from one vehicle to another, in space, with nothing but robots doing the physical work. Called the Robotic Refueling Mission, it's a major step on the road to developing a robust suite of essential robotic capabilities in space.
On March 7, 2012, the Robotic Refueling Mission team got its first chance to put its payload to the test in orbit. For the next three days, the teams at NASA Goddard's Robotic Lab and Satellite Servicing Center worked with Johnson Space Center robotic operators and carefully moved the International Space Station's robotic arm to manipulate tools on RRM.