Tuesday, August 12, 2014

NASA Robotic Refueling Mission: RRM Delivered by ATV-5

View of the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) module outside of the International Space Station as photographed by an Expedition 28 crew member in 2011.

Image Credit: NASA

NASA’s fix-it investigation, the newest thing on the International Space Station, is the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM).

The award-winning endeavour moved one step closer to its 2.0 update with the delivery of new RRM hardware aboard the European Automated Transfer Vehicle-5, which docked with the space station today.

The RRM module, affixed to an exterior space station platform since 2011, now awaits the robotic transfer of two new task boards and a borescope inspection tool that will equip RRM for a new round of satellite-servicing demonstrations.

A new complement of hardware will outfit NASA’s Robotic Refueling Mission (center on International Space Station platform) for a fresh set of satellite-servicing demonstrations.

Image Credit: NASA

“The Robotic Refueling Mission is about to get a refresh, and we couldn’t be more excited,” explains Benjamin Reed, deputy project manager of the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office, the team responsible for RRM’s development and operations on orbit.

A new RRM tool named VIPIR – the Visual Inspection Poseable Invertebrate Robot, was delivered to the International Space Station aboard the Automated Transfer Vehicle-5.

Image Credit: NASA

“This is the beauty of doing research on the space station. We’re not tied to the original hardware complement we sent up three years ago."

"The cadence of space station supply flights gives us the opportunity to swap equipment so we can tackle a new set of technology demonstrations.”

Since 2011, the duo of RRM and Dextre, the Canadian Space Agency robot that acts as a “handyman” for external station activities, has been steadily evaluating a set of NASA-developed, game-changing technologies that would enable remotely controlled robots to eventually repair and service spacecraft in orbit.

The overarching challenge facing the NASA RRM team is devising and manufacturing new robotic, tele-operated tools and techniques to service spacecraft that were not designed for in-flight service.

Robotic refueling and the tasks accompanying it – including blanket cutting, wire cutting and cap and fastener removal – were the primary focus of RRM’s first set of technology demonstrations.

In its second phase of activities, RRM will move past its refueling roots to test out the inspection capabilities of a new space tool named VIPIR, the Visual Inspection Poseable Invertebrate Robot.

The team will also tackle the intermediary steps leading toward spacecraft cryogen replenishment and host a demonstration of next-generation solar cell technology and a carbon nanotube experiment.

“The common thread is building up NASA’s collection of enabling satellite-servicing capabilities,” says Reed.

“Every capability translates into another option a satellite owner could potentially choose to keep his or her satellite operating longer and performing optimally.”

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