Space station’s new robotic arm springs to life

Two spacewalkers at the International Space Station (ISS) first activated the facility’s new robotic arm on Thursday, April 28.

Russian cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev ended their spacewalk at 6:40 p.m. ET after 7 hours and 42 minutes outside the ISS, spending much of that time working on the European Robotic Arm (ERA).

The ERA arrived at the station in July last year, but it remained covered in thermal blankets until Thursday.

NASA shared images (below) of the two cosmonauts, some 250 miles above Earth, as they worked to free the robotic arm of its constraints ahead of its first training session.

The station’s new robotic arm @ESA has been freed from its restrictions on the Nauka module and is now on the move.

— International Space Station (@Space_Station) Apr 28, 2022

It took a long time to reach this stage. The ERA was designed more than 30 years ago, and several technical issues over the past 20 years caused it to miss three scheduled missions to the ISS.

But now, European Space Agency (ESA) engineers can finally celebrate the arm’s first activation in space.

The new robotic arm is approximately 11 meters long, weighs 1,390 pounds (630 kilograms) and has seven joints that provide a high degree of maneuverability.

The ERA will be primarily used for installing, removing and replacing experimental payloads and large components; transfer smaller loads in and out of the station through the Russian airlock; transport spacewalkers from one part of the ISS to another “like a cherry picker”; and monitor and inspect the exterior of the space station using its four cameras.


Although the space station already has two operational robotic arms – Canada’s Canadarm2 and Japan’s Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System – the ERA is the first to be deployed outside the Russian part of the ISS, and will thus give spacewalkers greater range when performing maintenance and repairs. upgrades work outside the institution.

The new arm, dubbed “the smart spacewalker,” is “made for walking,” according to ESA, because it can move hand-over-hand between fixed base points.

“By moving hand-over-hand through the Russian parts of the station, the European robotic arm will bring more freedom, flexibility and more skills to space operations,” the agency said of its new ISS component.

To get the ERA fully operational, a total of five spacewalks will be needed. The first of these took place last week and involved the installation of a control panel. Thursday was the second and included moving the arm into space for the first time, while the third spacewalk is currently scheduled for May.

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