Europe is launching its new robotic arm that can crawl across the Worldwide House Station like a customs worm

The ISS’s robotic arms are some of its most useful tools. The arms, designed by Canadian and Japanese space agencies, were instrumental in moving astronauts and directing modules to one side of the ISS. However, the Russian segment lacked its own robotic arm – until a new one developed by ESA came onto the market last week.

The European Robotic Arm (ERA) will arrive on the ISS on July 29th together with Nauka, the laboratory module to which it is attached outside. With the help of 5 expected spacewalks, the arm will soon be put into operation and begin its first tasks – getting the Naucasus airlock working so that it becomes an integral part of the station and installing a large radiator to cope with the increased pressure Station cooling load.

Scheme of the newly upgraded ISS – including the ERA and Nauka modules (bottom left).
Credit – ESA

Within the framework of these projects, ERA will demonstrate its capabilities. This includes acting like an inch worm and moving hand over hand around the Nauka module. In addition, it is the first arm that can be steered either inside or outside the station and this control enables astronauts and cosmonauts to move up to 8000 kg within 5 mm of a desired location.

In fact, this level of accuracy doesn’t even need to be controlled manually – the ERA is autonomous and can be executed strictly according to written step-by-step instructions. Its seven degrees of freedom and a range of 9.7 meters also allow access outside of its home module. Made from carbon fiber and aluminum, it’s also strong enough to withstand the wear and tear of space and hopefully the effects of debris hitting other arms.

If you want to see the newly upgraded ISS, UT has a video of it.

Such impressive specifications have taken a lot of effort – 14 years of development by 22 companies in seven European countries. But it’s part of a bigger push to move the ISS into a more commercially friendly space, with additional research bays, improved data links, and external research platforms.

ESA’s plan is to use the Columbus 2023 program to make the ISS relevant in its “middle of life” in order to carry out new types of experiments and tests on the station that would be impossible on the earth side. The ERA is certainly a step in that direction, and the upgrades it will enable should make the ISS an increasingly important research location.

Learn more:
ESA – European robotic arm is launched into space
ESA – ERA brochure – Europe will shortly bring a new two-handed robotic arm to the International Space Station
Airbus – European robotic arm built by Airbus, ready for space

Mission statement:
Launch of ERA on a Proton rocket on July 21, 2021.
Credit – Roscosmos

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