Russia launches new robot arm module to the International Space Station

A Proton rocket launched today from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying a European Robotic Arm (ERA) payload to the International Space Station.

The 11-metre-long robot has been folded and attached to the Multipurpose Laboratory Module, also known as ‘Nauka’, which will be its home base when it reaches the ISS.

The rocket placed the yacht and ERA into orbit at 16:08 GMT, ten minutes after liftoff, at an altitude of approximately 200 kilometers above Earth.

The European Space Agency said the ISS already has two robotic arms used to berth spacecraft and move payloads and astronauts, but neither can arm each Russian segment.

Instead, the ERA will ‘walk’ around the Russian parts of the orbital complex, handle components weighing up to 8000 kg, and transport the astronauts when they finally arrive at the station.

“By moving the arm around the Russian parts of the station, the European robotic arm will bring more freedom, more flexibility and greater skill to space operations,” David Parker, ESA director of human and robotic exploration, said in a statement.

“We are giving the space station a mid-life upgrade through our Columbus 2030 program after 20 years in orbit – an opportunity to modernize space with a commercial approach.”

The yacht will take eight days to reach the ISS, when it will use its engines to automatically dock with the Russian section. It will require five spacewalks to prepare it for its first space operation, which astronauts can control from both inside and outside the ISS – something no other robotic arm offers.

In its first year on the space station, the main tasks of the ERA in orbit are to install a large radiator and airlock for the yacht.


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