Dextre tests a new tool to detect leaks
Dextre is putting a new NASA tool through its paces that will help pinpoint potentially dangerous ammonia leaks on the International Space Station. If the tests prove successful, the ISS Robotic External Leak Locator will help detect leaks more effectively so that they can be fixed quickly, and confirm that repairs are successful. IRELL was designed to be sensitive enough to sniff out traces of ammonia from a football field away.
Dextre tests NASA's International Space Station Robotic External Leak Locator (IRELL)
Why use ammonia on the ISS if it is dangerous?
We tend to think of space as a vast, cold void, so it is a bit surprising to learn that the ISS has a special system just to manage the extra heat generated by its solar panels.
The ISS's cooling system works by pumping ammonia through a series of pipes alongside the solar panels, which prevents them from overheating. Ammonia is an efficient substance for dissipating heat, but it can be dangerous to the ISS itself if it leaks, especially if it affects the Station's environmental control and life support systems. Leaks can even jeopardize a spacecraft's stability.
If a leak is sufficiently large, the ammonia looks like snowflakes on the Station's exterior. However, small leaks are not as easy to spot. Pinpointing their exact origin can be difficult and time-consuming, and typically requires a spacewalk to identify and repair the problem. This is where Dextre steps in. By using IRELL, Dextre can save the crew valuable time and resources—not to mention the inherent risks of a spacewalk. Dextre is entirely operated by mission controllers at either NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, or at the Canadian Space Agency's headquarters in Saint-Hubert, Quebec. This way, the astronauts aboard the ISS can continue to conduct science and other important tasks. In fact, most of Dextre's work takes place while the crew is asleep. If the leak locator tests prove successful, IRELL could be used not only to find leaks but also to verify that repairs have fixed the problem.
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