International Space Station news - 2012

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Year 2012


Astronauts complete another spacewalk on the International Space Station

NASA Astronaut Sunita Williams and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Akihiko Hoshide conducted a 8-hour, 17-minute spacewalk today to replace a faulty power relay unit (known as the Main Bus Switching Unit (MBSU 1).

While riding on the end of Canadarm2, Hoshide removed the failed unit, and stowed it temporarily on the External Stowage Platform 2, where Williams worked to prepare a spare replacement unit for Hoshide to retrieve and install. However, the spacewalkers had difficulties driving the bolts to secure the replacement switching unit, and ended up using a tether to secure the unit to the space station for a future spacewalk.

The spacewalkers successfully routed a power cable in preparation for the arrival of the Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module late next year. The spacewalk's third objective, replacing a camera on Canadarm2's boom segment, was not completed.


Another Cosmic Catch for Canadarm2!

ISS astronaut Joe Acaba used Canadarm2 to capture Japan's HTV3 spacecraft at 8:23 a.m. EDT (5:23 a.m. PDT) on July 27, 2012. HTV3 is ferrying supplies and science to the International Space Station, including the Canadian science experiment BCAT-C1.


Robotic Refueling Mission - Dextre's Duty Log for Day 3

Dextre capped off three days of success for the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) on June 21, 2012. Using the Multifunction Tool built by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Dextre used an adapter to perform a series of intricate ops beneath the RRM ambient cap, including using a plunger inside the tool to simulate breaking the seal on a fuel tank—an essential step in refueling a real satellite (the fuel tank on most satellites is sealed up prior to launch, since they are usually not designed to be repaired). One of the goals of RRM is to demonstrate how robots could perform the tasks necessary for refueling and servicing a satellite in space.

After completing work on the plug and ambient cap, Dextre then picked up another adapter for the Multifunction Tool (similar to a multi-bit screwdriver—Dextre switched adapters throughout the three days much like a handyman changes the tips for a screwdriver). Dextre succeeded in fitting the adapter on a tertiary cap on the RRM module, a task which required minute precision, and which is even difficult for human hands. Afterwards, Dextre stowed the multifunction tool and its adapter in the RRM tool bay and conducted some tests on a nozzle tool that will be used during the next phase of RRM, when Dextre will simulate refueling the RRM mock satellite.

Follow the RRM mission at:


Robotic Refueling Mission – Dextre's Duty Log for Day 2 - Slow and Steady

Robotics operations on board the International Space Station (ISS) continued on June 20, 2012, as Dextre successfully completed two more tasks in the RRM. Since the mission is designed to demonstrate how a robot could service a satellite in space, many of Dextre's tasks are analogous to the steps you would do yourself to fuel up your own vehicle.

With the NASA-built Multifunction Tool still in hand, Dextre used one of the tool's adapters to unscrew the ambient cap (much like unscrewing and removing the gas cap on an average car). The robotic handyman then stowed both the cap and its adapter in a compartment on the module. Afterwards, Dextre grasped another adapter and put it through a series of thorough checkouts before extracting it from its receptacle. Dextre will use the adapter when robotic work on RRM continues on Day 3.

A close-up of Dextre's worksite at the end of Day 2, with the robot in parked position. To prepare for Day 3 of operations, Dextre is holding the plug manipulator adapter on the end of the Multifunction Tool (upper left) while hovering over the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) module. (Credit: NASA/Canadian Space Agency)

This screen capture combines views from four cameras so that Dextre's experts can monitor his progress from different angles. These photos were taken while Dextre was unscrewing the ambient cap on the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) module. (Credit: NASA/Canadian Space Agency)


Robotic Refueling Mission – Smooth operator: Dextre's Duty Log for Day 1

RRM operations resumed on June 19, 2012, on board the ISS. With Dextre being operated from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in Saint-Hubert, Quebec, the robotic handyman put in a 19-hour day of smooth operations as part of a mission to demonstrate how satellites could be serviced in space.

All three components of the Canadian robotics system on the space station are working on this part of Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM): Dextre is perched on Canadarm, which is sitting on the mobile base (not shown). (Credit: NASA/Canadian Space Agency)

This is how the Dextre engineering team on Earth follows the robot's operations. This screen capture combines views from four cameras so that Dextre's experts can monitor his progress from different angles. These photos were taken while Dextre was unscrewing the t-valve on the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) module. (Credit: NASA/Canadian Space Agency)

Close-up of the tip of the Multifunction Tool, held by Dextre (left) as he stowed the t-valve and its adapter inside the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) module (right). (Credit: NASA/Canadian Space Agency)


The reusable spacecraft splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 11:42 a.m.

NASA Video
(Credit: NASA)

Dextre's Most Dexterous Task: Part 2 of the Robotic Refueling Mission on the Internationale Space Station (ISS)

A collaboration between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency, the Robotic Refueling Mission is an experiment on the exterior of the International Space Station that uses Dextre, the Station's Canadian-built robotic handyman, to test the technologies, tools and techniques that could be used to service and refuel satellites in orbit, especially those not built to be refurbished. The mission showcases the most intricate work ever performed by a robot in space.

For the mission, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center designed and built a mock satellite (roughly the size of a washing machine) fitted with various caps, nozzles and valves like those found on satellites. While perched on the end of Canadarm2, Dextre begins by using the multifunction tool to unscrew a t-valve on the module and stow it in a special receptacle. Afterward, the robot picks up an adapter and places it on the ambient cap (similar to a gas cap on a car), removes the cap and stows it in a special compartment on the module. Dextre then picks up a tool adapter and performs a series of intricate operations inside the plug (beneath the cap, and therefore hidden from view) using a plunger to simulate breaking a seal on a fuel tank, a step that would be essential for refueling a satellite. Dextre then cleans up his workspace by putting away his tools and adapters at the end of the operations. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency)


Canadarm2 captured SpaceX's Dragon on May 25, 2012 at 9:56 a.m. Eastern

(Credit: NASA)

Dragon departs the International Space Station (ISS) and flies home

With astronauts Don Pettit and Joe Acaba at the helm, Canadarm2 released SpaceX's Dragon from the International Space Station (ISS) at 5:49 a.m. EST. The reusable spacecraft splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 11:42 a.m.

Dragon became the first commercial vehicle to visit the ISS. Canadarm2 performed a cosmic catch to install in on the station on May 25. Dragon delivered a total of 460 kg food and clothing to the orbiting outpost and returned 620 kg of cargo to Earth.

Dragon departs the ISS. NASA Video

Revisit how Canadarm2 caught a Dragon. YouTube Video


As this computer animation shows, Dragon will approach the International Space Station, with Canadarm2 grappling the capsule in free flight and docking it to the station.

YouTube Video
(Credit: Canadian Space Agency).

Another cosmic catch complete!

Canadarm2 captured SpaceX's Dragon on May 25, 2012 at 9:56 a.m. Eastern while the station flew over Australia. Dragon is now the first commercial vehicle to visit the International Space Station.


Canadarm2 to Catch SpaceX's Dragon on its Maiden Voyage to the International Space Station (ISS)

"Here, there be dragons"...the phrase used to designate the boundaries of the known world on historical maps seems fitting as the US space program embarks upon a new frontier in space exploration with the launch of the first commercial demonstration flight to the International Space Station. However, rarely were the monsters of yore as eagerly anticipated as SpaceX's Dragon, the first privately built cargo ship destined for the orbiting outpost.

Dragon represents a new era and a new NASA approach to space transportation systems. Since the retirement of the space shuttle, NASA has turned to the private sector to develop and operate safe, reliable and affordable commercial space transportation systems. Launched on May 22, 2012, from the Kennedy Space Center, the goal of Dragon's planned 21-day mission will be to test the unpiloted capsule's ability to rendezvous with the space station. Shortly after launch, Dragon will undergo a series of checkout procedures to test and prove its systems in advance of its docking with the station. It will approach from the Earth-facing (nadir) side, then hover at a distance of 2.5 kilometres so that its sensors and flight systems can be examined to ensure that it is safe to proceed. The spacecraft also will demonstrate its capability to abort the rendezvous.

Another Cosmic Catch for Canadarm2

At the end of its mission, Canadarm2 will undock and release Dragon for its return to Earth, where it will then be retrieved and reused.

YouTube Video
(Credit: Canadian Space Agency)

Once Dragon is cleared for capture, Canadarm2 will perform a cosmic catch: it will grapple the capsule and install it on the space station. With NASA Astronaut Don Pettit and European Space Agency Astronaut Andre Kuipers at the helm, Canadarm2 will reach out to grasp Dragon at a distance of 8-10 metres below the station. Pettit will use the robotic arm to seize a grapple fixture located on the side of the capsule and Kuipers will use Canadarm2 to install it on the Earth-facing side of the station's Harmony node. Dragon will mark Canadarm2's third successful capture and docking of a free-flying spacecraft.

Dextre and Canadarm2 lend a hand

During the 18 days that Dragon will spend docked to the International Space Station, the crew will unload its cargo of about half a ton of food and clothing packed inside the pressurized section. On flight day 6, Dextre and Canadarm2 will move in closer to inspect Dragon's external surfaces and its "trunk"—the open, unpressurized section of the spacecraft that will later be used to transport a variety of payloads and science instruments on future missions.

At the end of the mission, Canadarm2 will detach Dragon from the station so that the reusable vehicle will return to Earth and be recovered and refurbished for its next mission.


On the third day of Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) operations, Dextre stowed the Multifunction tool and Wire-Cutting tool inside the RRM module for future operations.

(Video: NASA/Canadian Space Agency).
Watch the Video

Dextre cleans up after a job well done!

Dextre successfully completed the initial phases of RRM, known as the Gas Fittings Removal Task in two phases on March. The operation required Dextre to perform the most intricate work ever performed by a robot in space.

"The Robotic Refueling Mission required surgical precision and Dextre succeeded each task on the first attempt," said Steve MacLean, President of the Canadian Space Agency. "It's the robotic equivalent of threading a needle while standing on the end of a diving board."

Dextre's duties for the first segment of the Gas Fittings Removal task included: retrieving and testing three of the tools to ensure they survived the rigours of launch; releasing seven launch locks that secured four small tool adapters during the module's flight to the space station; and then cutting two extremely thin wires fastening valve caps to the module. One of these cuts required the 3.7-metre-high Dextre to slide a tiny hook under a wire with only about a millimetre of clearance—the most precise task ever attempted by Canada's state-of-the-art robot.


Dextre on the end of Canadarm2 about to store the Wire-Cutting Tool in the RRM module built by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
(Credit: NASA)

Dextre makes the cut: Wire Cutting task is a resounding success!

Day 2 of the initial phase of the joint NASA-CSA RRM ended with a historic moment for Dextre, the Canadian-built robotic handyman on board the International Space Station (ISS).

Dextre spent the better part of the day successfully releasing 7 launch locks that fastened 4 tool adapters (built by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center) inside the RRM module during their flight to the ISS. See the video on YouTube.

After completing operations with the Multifunction Tool, Canadarm2 repositioned Dextre to cut the first of two wires, each about as thick as four sheets of paper.

With surgical precision, and only about a millimetre of clearance, Dextre captured the wire in the Wire-Cutting Tool (1:14-1:32). The Canadian-built robotic handyman then cut the thin wire (1:44-2:03) that fastened a mock gas cap to the RRM module (much like the tether that secures the gas cap on a car). See the video on YouTube.


Four different views of Dextre as the robotic handyman removes the Wire-Cutting Tool from the RRM on board the ISS.
(Credit: NASA/Canadian Space Agency).

Dextre's Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM): Day 1

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.

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