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In big step for robotics, one robot repairs another in space

Sharon Gaudin | May 30, 2014
Advance could boost robotics work in deep space and in Earth-based enterprises.

Caron explained that a camera on the Canadarm, as well as one on the mobile base, have not been working properly. Both cameras are used to give mission control on the ground, as well as the astronauts on the station, the ability to see what is happening outside when they're using the robots.

The camera on the mobile base wasn't working and had been removed during a spacewalk last summer. The one on Canadarm II was still usable but delivered a hazy image.

Caron said that Dextre, while controlled by a team of engineers in Montreal and Houston, last week transferred the hazy-image producing camera from Canadarm II to the mobile base. Engineers calculated that it worked well enough for what video would be needed from that position.

Then on Tuesday, Dextre took a spare camera that had been stored inside the space station and positioned it on Canadarm and hooked it up.

Both cameras are now working.

"This is the first time we've shown that a robotics system can fix itself," said Caron. "We're very excited to have the ability to fix a system on orbit. This frees up the astronauts. Every space walk has a certain element of danger, but also it monopolizes the astronauts for not only the spacewalk but the preps leading up to it. While they're doing that, they're not available to do the science and research missions on the station."

This means that robots like Dextre can be used to repair satellites orbiting the Earth. However, it also means that as the space station needs more critical repairs, robots will be able to take on more of the work.

"If you look at the space station, the first module was launched in 1998," noted Caron. "We have an aging space station. As it gets older, it needs more maintenance, so Dextre's role becomes more and more important as we need to replace more components. It's going to be a very busy time for us."


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