NASA’s Robotic Refueling Demo Set to Jump Start Expanded Capabilities in Space

RRM_demo_illustration
This artist’s concept shows a scene from the upcoming refueling demo aboard the International Space Station. The Robotic Refueling Mission, or RRM, Multifunction Tool (right) removes a cap from the RRM module (left). (NASA) This artist’s concept shows a scene from the upcoming refueling demo aboard the International Space Station. The Robotic Refueling Mission, or RRM, Multifunction Tool (right) removes a cap from the RRM module (left). (Credit: NASA)

By Adrienne Alessandro
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

In mid-January, NASA will take the next step in advancing robotic satellite-servicing technologies as it tests the Robotic Refueling Mission, or RRM aboard the International Space Station. The investigation may one day substantially impact the many satellites that deliver products Americans rely upon daily, such as weather reports, cell phones and television news.

During five days of operations, controllers from NASA and the Canadian Space Agency will use the space station’s remotely operated Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, or Dextre, robot to simulate robotic refueling in space. Operating a space-based robotic arm from the ground is a feat on its own, but NASA will do more than just robotics work as controllers remotely snip wires, unscrew caps and transfer simulated fuel. The team also will demonstrate tools, technologies and techniques that could one day make satellites in space greener, more robust and more capable of delivering essential services to people on Earth.

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NASA Centers Work on Satellite Servicing Technologies

This artist’s concept shows a servicing spacecraft, left, approaching satellite needing assistance. NASA is developing technology needed to bring a high-technology “gas pump, robotic mechanic and tow truck” to satellites in orbit. Image credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

By Bob Granath
NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center

With satellites playing increasingly important roles in everyday life, NASA is developing the technology to build Earth-orbiting, roving “service stations” capable of extending the life of these spacecraft. Engineers at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida are assisting the space agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., in developing the concept for bringing a high-technology gas pump, robotic mechanic and tow truck to satellites in space.

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Robotic Refueling Mission Advances Toward Late Summer Demonstration

Robotic Refueling Mission (center, on platform) uses Canadarm2 and the Canadian Dextre robot (left and bottom, foreground) to demonstrate satellite-servicing tasks. (Credit: NASA/CSA)

GREENBELT, MD (NASA PR) — NASA completed another successful round of Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) operations on the International Space Station with the Canadian Dextre robot and RRM tools, leaving the RRM module poised for the highly-anticipated refueling demonstration scheduled for late summer 2012.

A joint effort between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), RRM is an external station experiment designed to demonstrate the technologies, tools, and techniques needed to robotically repair and refuel satellites in orbit, especially those not built with servicing in mind. RRM results and lessons learned are reducing the risks associated with satellite servicing and bolstering the foundation for future robotic servicing missions.

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Video Update on the Robotic Refueling Mission

NASA Public Affairs Office Dan Huot interviews Jill McGuire, the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) Project Manager at Goddard Space Flight Center, about the current RRM operations taking place outside the International Space Station.

Robotic Refueling Mission Deemed Great Success

The Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) module on the International Space Station before it was installed on its permanent platform. RRM will demonstrate robotic servicing technology and lay the foundation for future missions. (Credit: NASA)

By Adrienne Alessandro and Dewayne Washington
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA’s highly anticipated Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) began operations on the International Space Station with the Canadian Dextre robot and RRM tools March 7-9, 2012, marking important milestones in satellite-servicing technology and the use of the space station robotic capabilities.

A joint effort between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), RRM is an external station experiment designed to demonstrate the technologies, tools, and techniques needed to robotically service and refuel satellites in orbit, especially those not built with servicing in mind. RRM represents the first time the space station’s Dextre robot is used for technology research and development, moving it beyond robotic maintenance of the orbiting superstructure.

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CSA’s Dextre Sets Record for Precision During Robotic Refueling Mission

Longueuil, Quebec (CSA PR) – Dextre, the Canadian Space Agency’s robotic handyman on board the International Space Station (ISS), has accomplished the most intricate work ever performed by a robot in space. Over three days (March 7-9), Dextre successfully concluded the initial phases of the Robotic Refueling Mission with unprecedented precision. A collaboration between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, the Robotic Refueling Mission was designed to demonstrate the ability of using robots to refuel and service existing satellites in space—especially those not designed for repair. The mission also marks the first time Dextre was used for a technology research and development demonstration on board the Station.

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Dextre’s Log: Robotic Refueling Mission Day 1

Four different views of Dextre as the robotic handyman removes the Wire-Cutting Tool from the Robotic Refueling Module on board the International Space Station (Source: NASA/CSA).

(CSA PR) Day 1 — The first day of Dextre’s most demanding mission wrapped up successfully on March 7 as the robotic handyman completed his three assigned tasks. Dextre successfully retrieved, inspected and stowed three of the four specialized tools built specifically for the Robotic Refueling Mission by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre. After thorough checkouts, Dextre confirmed that the Safety Cap Tool, the Wire Cutter and Blanket Manipulation Tool and the Multifunction Tool passed mechanical and electrical functional checkouts and are ready for future operations.

Work continues today on the International Space Station when Dextre will perform the most intricate task ever attempted by a space robot. The 3.7-metre-high Dextre will use one of his new tools to slide a miniature hook under a wire with only about one millimetre of clearance—a maneuver that will require surgical precision while the robot combats the harsh temperature and dynamic lighting changes in space and the oscillations stemming from his perch on the end of Canadarm2.

Dextre to Begin Robotic Refueling Mission Today

This artistic representation shows Dextre (right) performing a robotic refueling task on RRM (center) task box, mounted to ELC4. (Image: NASA)

Robotic Refueling Mission Begins: March 7, 2012
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CSA PR — Satellites are designed to withstand a variety of challenges to ensure that the sensitive electronics on board can survive the effects of launch and perform for years in the harsh conditions of space. One of the major hurdles engineering teams face when designing a satellite is how much fuel it can carry to operate throughout its lifetime. Many satellites are left to die and then become space debris after they run out of fuel. But what if we were able to refuel them?

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