Robotic Refueling Mission Gears Up for Phase 2

Dextre and Robotic Refueling Mission hardware. (Credit: NASA)
Via NASA

It may be called the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM), but NASA built RRM to demonstrate much more than just robotic satellite refueling.

In its second phase, RRM is now moving on to demonstrate how a space robot can complete intermediate tasks required to replenish croygen in the instruments of “legacy” satellites: existing, orbiting spacecraft that were not designed to be serviced. Initial activities to demonstrate this on-orbit capability were completed in March and June 2012 with the aid of the original RRM tools and activity boards.

Phase 2 began on Saturday with the launch of new RRM hardware to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle 4 (HTV-4). Additional hardware will be launched in early 2014. Operations with the Canadian Space Agency’s Dextre robot are planned to resume in 2014.

The Phase 2 hardware complement consists of:

  • Two new RRM task boards,
  • The RRM On-orbit Transfer Cage: an original device developed by SSCO to transfer hardware outside of the International Space Station, and
  • The Visual Inspection Poseable Invertebrate Robot (VIPIR): an SSCO-built borescope inspection tool that provides a set of eyes for internal satellite repair jobs.

New RRM Task Boards and Tools, Installed Robotically

Image of the RRM On-orbit Transfer Cage, captured during launch preparations at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. (Credit: NASA)
Image of the RRM On-orbit Transfer Cage, captured during launch
preparations at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. (Credit: NASA)

After the payload arrives at Space Station, astronauts will mount the new RRM Task Board 3 to the top of the RRM On-orbit Transfer Cage (ROTC), an original device developed by NASA’s Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office to transfer hardware outside of the ISS. Crew members will then install the ROTC onto the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) airlock slide table.

The Japanese Experiment Module on the ISS. (Credit: JAXA)
The Japanese Experiment Module on the ISS. (Credit: JAXA)

Space Station’s Dextre robot — the same handyman that executes RRM operations — will then remove Task Board 3 and attach it to an empty section on the top of the RRM module. This robotic transfer will be entirely controlled from the ground without astronaut assistance.

A second launch in early 2014 will deliver the new RRM Task Board 4 and the Visual Inspection Poseable Invertebrate Robot (VIPIR) to the ISS for installation.

Task Board 3

Task Board 3. (Credit: NASA)
Task Board 3. (Credit: NASA)

RRM Task Board 3 is packed full of adapters and indicators to help RRM and Dextre demonstrate how space robots can replenish cryogen in the instruments of “legacy” satellites: existing, orbiting spacecraft that were not designed to be serviced.

  • On the far left of the task board is the Pressure Test System (PTS), which provides the plumbing required to demonstrate an on-orbit seal of a robotically installed vent plug. PTS consists of three Multifunction Tool Valve Interfaces and a pressure gauge. During operations, the Multifunction Tool (MFT) will couple with the Vent Plug Adapter (VPA). The MFT with the connected VPA will then seal into the 2-inch vent tube located to the right of the PTS.
  • Next, there is the Continuity Indicator (COIN), seen in the middle of the task board. With the Multifunction Tool using the Wire Harness Adapter (WHA) and Electrical Plug Adapter (EPA) to plug into 2 separate outlets on the vent panel, the COIN provides the circuit required to demonstrate an on-orbit connection of a robotically installed electrical plug. LEDs on the COIN indicate if the plug is mechanically mated and the circuit is electrically energized.
  • On the far right of the task board is the Coolant Line Adapter (CLA). The Multifunction Tool will use it to interface with the Coolant Valve Panel (CVP) on RRM and simulate installing a coolant line hose and bayonet into an open port of a satellite.

Task Board 4 and the Visual Inspection Poseable Invertebrate Robot (VIPIR)

A second shipment of hardware in 2014 will bring a second task board and an exciting new device named VIPIR, the Visual Inspection Poseable Invertebrate Robot: an SSCO-built borescope inspection tool that provides a set of eyes for internal satellite repair jobs.

With the help of the twin-armed Dextre handyman, RRM will work its way through intermediate steps leading up to cryogen replenishment. After retrofitting valves with new hardware, peering into dark places with the aid of VIPIR, and creating a pressure-tight seal, the RRM and Dextre duo will stop short of actual cryogen transfer.

RRM Phase 2 operations are scheduled to begin in 2014. Initial activities to demonstrate this on-orbit capability — cutting wires and removing caps — were completed in 2012 with the aid of the original RRM tools and activity boards.

  • mzungu

    I get pretty skeptical on ISS researches, 😀

    but this is prob one of the few that get some real commercialization.