James Webb Space Telescope’s Giant Sunshield Test Unit Unfurled First Time

GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER, MD – The huge Sunshield test unit for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been successfully unfurled for the first time in a key milestone ahead of the launch scheduled for October 2018.

Engineers stacked and expanded the tennis-court sized Sunshield test unit last week inside the cleanroom at a Northrop Grumman facility in Redondo Beach, California.

NASA reports that the operation proceeded perfectly the first time during the test of the full-sized unit.

The Sunshield and every other JWST component must unfold perfectly and to precise tolerances in space because it has not been designed for servicing or repairs by astronaut crews voyaging beyond low-Earth orbit into deep space, William Ochs, Associate Director for JWST at NASA Goddard told me in an exclusive interview.

Artist’s concept of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) with Sunshield at bottom.  Credit: NASA/ESA
Artist’s concept of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) with Sunshield at bottom. Credit: NASA/ESA

The five layered Sunshield is the largest component of the observatory and acts like a parasol.

Its purpose is to protect Webb from the suns heat and passively cool the telescope and its quartet of sensitive science instruments via permanent shade to approximately 45 kelvins, -380 degrees F, -233 C.

The kite-shaped Sunshield provides an effective sun protection factor or SPF of 1,000,000. By comparison suntan lotion for humans has an SPF of 8 to 40.

Two sides of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Credit: NASA
Two sides of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Credit: NASA

The extreme cold is required for the telescope to function in the infrared (IR) wavelengths and enable it to look back in time further than ever before to detect distant objects.

The shield separates the observatory into a warm sun-facing side and a cold anti-sun side.

Its five thin membrane layers also provides a stable thermal environment to keep the telescopes 18 primary mirror segments properly aligned for Webb’s science investigations.

JWST is the successor to the 24 year old Hubble Space Telescope and will become the most powerful telescope ever sent to space.

The Webb Telescope is a joint international collaborative project between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

NASA has overall responsibility and Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor for JWST.

Webb will launch folded up inside the payload fairing of an ESA Ariane V ECA rocket from the Guiana Space Center in Kourou, French Guiana.

In launch configuration, the Sunshield will surround the main mirrors and instruments like an umbrella.

During the post launch journey to the L2 observing orbit at the second Sun-Earth Lagrange point nearly a million miles (1.5 million Km) from Earth, the telescopes mirrors and sunshield will begin a rather complex six month long unfolding and calibration process.

The science instruments have been mounted inside the ISIM science module and are currently undergoing critical vacuum chamber testing at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center which provides overall management and systems engineering.

Gold coated flight spare of a JWST primary mirror segment made of beryllium and used for test operations inside the NASA Goddard clean room.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Gold coated flight spare of a JWST primary mirror segment made of beryllium and used for test operations inside the NASA Goddard clean room. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

The mirror segments have arrived at NASA Goddard where I’ve had the opportunity to observe and report on work in progress.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing JWST, MMS, ISS, Curiosity, Opportunity, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, Boeing, Orion, MAVEN, MOM, Mars and more Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Sunshield test unit on NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is unfurled for the first time at Northrup Grumman.  Credit: NASA
Sunshield test unit on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is unfurled for the first time at Northrup Grumman. Credit: NASA

Happy Easter Sunday from the ISS ! Crew Hunts Easter Eggs & Goodies

ISS Commander Chris Hadfield plans surprise Easter egg hunt for station crew today – Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013. Credit: NASA/Chris Hadfield
Updated with more astounding ‘Easter from Space’ photos by Chris Hadfield !
Dont miss the scrumptious ‘Easter Finale’ – below

Thank you Chris ![/caption]

Hush, hush !

Don’t’ tell his crew, but Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has secretly planned a delightful space station surprise sure to also warm the hearts of Earth’s children celebrating the joyous occasion of this Easter Sunday – and there’s delicious photos below too.

They’re going on an Easter egg hunt !

“Don’t tell my crew, but I brought them Easter Eggs :)”, tweeted Hadfield from the ISS – where he currently serves as Commander of the Expedition 35 crew.

And Hadfield sends his greetings and ‘Easter from Space’ photos to all of us down here on the good Earth on this Holy Day.

“Good Morning, Earth! A fine Easter Sunday morning to you, from the crew of the International Space Station.”

You can follow along with Hadfield’s adventures from space as – @Cmdr_Hadfield

A Full Moon. It may not be made of chocolate, but it makes for a wonderfully natural Easter egg. Credit: NASA/Chris Hadfield
A Full Moon. It may not be made of chocolate, but it makes for a wonderfully natural Easter egg. Credit: NASA/Chris Hadfield

Occasionally, Mission Control relents and lets the astronauts have fun, taking a break from their out of this world chores.

But given the weightless of space, it’s not obvious how they’ll accomplish the traditional Easter egg roll. Perhaps we’ll hear about that later.

And there’s no word back yet on Easter Bunny sightings.

Well, to get ready Hadfield has been busy stashing assorted Easter goodies & gifts in the gazillion nooks and crannies aboard the ISS – and snapping fun photos for all the kids to play along.

“Sometimes the best place to hide an item is floating right above your nose. Or in this case, your sleep pod.”

This sleep pod apparently makes for a great hiding spot for Easter eggs and gift baskets on the ISS. Credit: NASA
This sleep pod apparently makes for a great hiding spot for floating Easter eggs and gift baskets on the ISS. Credit: NASA

Hadfield just couldn’t resist the temptation of some weightless juggling – and he’s not telling if they went .. splat !!

“It appears that I’m as bad at juggling in weightlessness as I am on Earth. Hopefully I’m better at hiding them… ”

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield attempts to juggle Easter eggs aboard the International Space Station. Do they go splat ??. Credit: NASA
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield attempts to juggle Easter eggs aboard the International Space Station. Do they go splat ??. Credit: NASA

Time will tell whether the crew of six guys are indeed clever enough to figure out all the secret hiding spots.

The Easter egg hunt could be especially trying for the three ‘new guys’ who just arrived on Thursday, March 28, on the Russian Soyuz express capsule – comprising of Russian cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy. They join Hadfield, astronaut Tom Marshburn and cosmonaut Roman Romanenko who will stay aboard the station until May.

In the meantime, Hadfield is playfully diverting everyone’s concentration with gorgeous shots of Earth, like the Easter sunrise glinting across North America’s heartland – below.

An Easter sunrise glints across the Great Lakes. Heartland watershed. Credit: NASA/Chris Hadfield
An Easter sunrise glints across the Great Lakes. Heartland watershed. Credit: NASA/Chris Hadfield

And the Canadian Space Agency has now passed along an Easter greeting card.

Astronaut and cosmonaut crews have a decade’s long tradition of celebrating religious holidays in space. Probably the most famous occasion was when the three man American crew of Apollo 8 read scriptures from Genesis marking the first time in history that humans were orbiting the Moon – back in 1968.

All in all it’s been a busy week aboard the massive orbiting lab complex.

On Tuesday, March 26, the SpaceX Dragon capsule departed the station, loaded with a long awaited trove of science goodies and successfully splashed down in the ocean. Two days later the trio of new space men arriving aboard the Soyuz restored the ISS to its full crew complement of six.

Since arriving at the station just before Christmas 2012, Hadfield has been doing a stellar job enlightening folks about what it’s like to live and work in space in fun and understandable ways.

Happy Easter !

Ken Kremer

Easter Finale: The Sun, a bright point of light surrounded by profound blackness, our world glowing in-between. Credit: NASA/Chris Hadfield
Easter Finale: The Sun, a bright point of light surrounded by profound blackness, our world glowing in-between. Credit: NASA/Chris Hadfield


Learn more about the ISS, Curiosity, SpaceX, Antares, and NASA missions at Ken’s upcoming lecture presentations:

April 20/21 : “Curiosity and the Search for Life on Mars – (in 3-D)”. Plus Orion, SpaceX, Antares, ISS, the Space Shuttle and more! NEAF Astronomy Forum, Suffern, NY

April 28: “Curiosity and the Search for Life on Mars – (in 3-D)”. Plus the Space Shuttle, SpaceX, Antares, Orion and more. Washington Crossing State Park, Titusville, NJ, 130 PM

Another Amazing Earth View: The Andes Under a Blue Pacific Fog

View of the Andes from the ISS on Feb. 4, 2013 (NASA)

Even though he’s a busy guy, Expedition 34 astronaut Chris Hadfield still takes the time to share some of his amazing views from orbit aboard the ISS. One of his most recent photos is this stunning view of Andean ridges rising up from a blue haze of Pacific fog, the arc of Earth’s horizon in the distance. Gorgeous! (Edit: according to a labeled image by Peter Caltner, this is looking southeast into northern Argentina – no Pacific in view. So the haze is coming from the valley, not the ocean.)

Shared on Twitter at 6:25 p.m. EST, this has quickly become one of Hadfield’s more popular images — and for good reason. In fact sometimes it’s hard to keep up with this high-flying Canadian, who easily posts half a dozen or more photos from all across the world every day on Twitter, Facebook, and his Google+ profile (which is managed by his son Evan.) But since the ISS goes around the globe 16 times a day, there’s certainly no shortage of sights for Chris and the Exp. 34 crew!

Check out a few more of Chris Hadfield’s recent photos below:


The Mississippi delta deposits “the soil of America’s heartland” into the Gulf of Mexico (NASA)


“It’s a bird, it’s a plane… it’s a river in South America!” tweeted Hadfield. (Actually it’s looking west along the Rio São Francisco river in Brazil.) NASA


Chesapeake Bay from orbit. “You can even see the causeway,” Hadfield noted. (NASA)


On Feb. 2, Hadfield took this photo of storm clouds over Africa. “My breath was taken away,” he wrote. (NASA)


Toronto on the shore of Lake Ontario, “Canada’s most populous city” (NASA)

Want to see more of Chris Hadfield’s images from orbit? Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and over on Google+. (Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself changing your desktop background a lot more often!)

And for even more space adventures, tune in to the CSA website on February 7 at 10:30 a.m. EST when Col. Hadfield will have a live chat with William Shatner, building upon their brief (but immensely popular) impromptu web conversation from last month. He’ll also be taking questions from “space tweeps” on-site at CSA.

Sounds of the Space Station

CSA astronaut Chris Hadfield strums some chords in the cupola (NASA)

You’ve probably seen plenty of photos of astronauts and cosmonauts working aboard the International Space Station, and maybe even some videos of ISS briefings and interviews and tours throughout the different modules (and perhaps even an astronaut-produced song or two.) But have you ever wondered what the average, everyday sounds inside Station are like?

If so, Canadian astronaut and Expedition 34 flight engineer Chris Hadfield has an earful for you.

To share his ISS experience past mere pixels, Hadfield has posted some recordings on Soundcloud taken from various locations around Station, giving an idea of the many ambient noises found inside humanity’s orbiting “place in space.” (But if you think it sounds anything like the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise, you may be in for a surprise.)

iss034e010603Here’s just a few of the recordings Hadfield has posted (you’ll have to click each to play in Soundcloud):

Ambient Noise of the Space Station

Station Noises and Sounds

Russian Segment Handrails

Soyuz Orbital Module

And here’s one that really doesn’t sound like anything on Earth: Toilet Starting on Station

So even though life on the ISS might not sound like what you’d first imagine in a spaceship or have a dramatic score to accompany its soaring adventures around the world, it certainly has a unique sound all its own (and sometimes the astronauts do get to add their own original soundtrack too.)

Space Folk

Chris may have founded a new music genre: “Space Folk”

Listen to more sounds of the Station on Chris Hadfield’s Soundcloud page here.

Inset image: Chris Hadfield poses with a Materials Science Laboratory Furnace Launch Support Structure (FLSS) in the Destiny laboratory of the International Space Station. NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, flight engineer, uses a computer in the background.

Russia’s Soyuz Spacecraft: 46 Years and Still Soaring High

In just a couple of days a Soyuz rocket will lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, carrying NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, and Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Roman Romanenko within the TMA-07M capsule on a two-day trip to the ISS. While many improvements have been made to the Soyuz rockets and spacecraft since the first launch in 1966, the bottom line is that the Soyuz have become the world’s most used launch vehicles due to their consistent performance and relatively low cost.

Here, CSA astronaut Chris Hadfield talks about the Soyuz, briefly describing the strengths of the Russian technology that will once again take him and fellow Expedition 34/35 crew members to the ISS, where in March of next year he will become the first Canadian to take command of the Station.

“This is a safe and reliable and proven way to leave the Earth, and each successive Soyuz is different; each one has small changes. The role of the astronaut is to learn those small changes… and learn to apply them.”

– Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield

The T version of the Soyuz craft began flying manned missions in 1980 and in 1986 the TM versions were transporting crews to Mir. The TMA upgrade addressed previous astronaut/cosmonaut height restrictions and permits the Soyuz to be used as a lifeboat for ISS crews, if necessary.

Find out more about the long history of the Soyuz spacecraft here, and read more about today’s Soyuz rollout here.

Video: CSA. Inset image: NASA/Carla Cioffi

Canada Unveils its Contributions to the JWST

Today Canada’s Minister of Industry Christian Paradis unveiled the technologies that comprise Canada’s contribution to the James Webb Space Telescope, a next-generation infrared observatory that’s seen as the successor to Hubble.

CSA will provide JWST with a two-in-one instrument: a Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS) Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS). Both were designed, built and tested by COM DEV International in Ottawa and Cambridge, Ontario, with technical contributions from the Université de Montréal and the National Research Council Canada.

Read: Watch the James Webb Being Built via “Webb-Cam”

“Canada has a proud legacy in space and we are once again pushing the frontier of what is possible. These two outstanding technologies are perfect examples of how Canada has secured its world-class reputation. Our Government is committed to ensuring the long-term competitiveness and prosperity of such a vital economic sector.”
– The Honourable Christian Paradis

The FGS consists of two identical cameras that are critical to Webb’s ability to “see.” Their images will allow the telescope to determine its position, locate its celestial targets, and remain pointed to collect high-quality data. The FGS will guide the telescope with incredible precision, with an accuracy of one millionth of a degree.

The NIRISS will have unique capabilities for finding the earliest and most distant objects in the Universe’s history. It will also peer through the glare of nearby young stars to unveil new Jupiter-like exoplanets. It will have the capability of detecting the thin atmosphere of small, habitable, earth-like planets and determine its chemical composition to seek water vapour, carbon dioxide and other potential biomarkers such as methane and oxygen.

The FGS/NIRISS instruments can be seen in this development video from CSA:

“Imagine the challenge at hand here: to design and deliver technology capable of unprecedented levels of precision to conduct breakthrough science on board the largest, most complex and most powerful telescope ever built,” said Steve MacLean, President of the CSA. “The Webb telescope will be located 1.5 million kilometers from Earth— too far to be serviced by astronauts like Hubble was. At that distance, the technology simply has to work. This is the outstanding level of excellence Canadians are capable of achieving. It’s something for all of us to be proud of.”

The instruments will be delivered to NASA on July 30.

Read more on the CSA press release here, and learn more about the James Webb here.

Images/video: CSA and NASA

Awesome Map of Space Agencies Around the World

When you think of space agencies around the world, what comes to mind? Probably NASA, ESA, ISRO and JAXA are the acronyms you know; then there’s the Russian Federal Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, and the China National Space Agency. But did you know there are dozens of countries with space agencies, with nearly 200 space agencies and centers around the world? Blogger Heather Archuletta has put together a map and list of all the space agencies on the planet, including countries you may not have realized had a space agency such as Argentina, Bulgaria, Pakistan Morocco, and more. The list includes links to all the space agency’s websites and a link to an interactive Google Map. The immediate thought that came to mind, which Heather shared on Twitter was, ROAD TRIP!

For any space nerd, that would be the ultimate global trek, to visit every space agency in the world. With all the NASA and Russian centers and all the various countries in ESA, your trip would include 198 locations around our planet!

Heather is known for her Pillownaut blog which originally detailed her time participating in NASA bedrest studies to simulate long duration spaceflight. The space agency map was a new project, born from a conversation with a friend.

“Overall, I created it to be a tracking tool, and to show how huge the space industry has become,” Heather told Universe Today. “Many people think of the space game as being the US, Russia and a handful of Europeans… but truly, lifestyle in many countries is dependent upon the use of space, even if it’s just as simple as remote sensing or collaborative satellites.”

Heather noted that the map includes one site in India that is not operational yet, but built.

But consider how many jobs around the world have been created because of space exploration… and these jobs employ some of the best and brightest minds in forward-thinking, global-enriching ways. And even more, there’s now the burgeoning private space industry that is employing even more people with jobs that focus on the future.

Check out http://pillownaut.com/spacemap/spacemap.html and plan your space-nerd road trip today!

Robotics Refueling Research Scores Huge Leap at Space Station


A combined team of American and Canadian engineers has taken a major first step forward by successfully applying new, first-of-its-kind robotics research conducted aboard the International Space Station (ISS) to the eventual repair and refueling of high value orbiting space satellites, and which has the potential to one day bring about billions of dollars in cost savings for the government and commercial space sectors.

Gleeful researchers from both nations shouted “Yeah !!!” – after successfully using the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) experiment – bolted outside the ISS- as a technology test bed to demonstrate that a remotely controlled robot in the vacuum of space could accomplish delicate work tasks requiring extremely precise motion control. The revolutionary robotics experiment could extend the usable operating life of satellites already in Earth orbit that were never even intended to be worked upon.

“After dedicating many months of professional and personal time to RRM, it was a great emotional rush and a reassurance for me to see the first video stream from an RRM tool,” said Justin Cassidy in an exclusive in-depth interview with Universe Today. Cassidy is RRM Hardware Manager at the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Astronuats Install Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) experiment during Shuttle Era's Final Spacewalk
In March 2012, RRM and Canada’s Dextre Robot jointly acccomplised fundamental leap forward in robotics research aboard the ISS. Spacewalker Mike Fossum rides on the International Space Station's robotic arm as he carries the Robotic Refueling Mission experiment. This was the final scheduled spacewalk during a shuttle mission. Credit: NASA

And the RRM team already has plans to carry out even more ambitious follow on experiments starting as soon as this summer, including the highly anticipated transfer of fluids to simulate an actual satellite refueling that could transfigure robotics applications in space – see details below !

All of the robotic operations at the station were remotely controlled by flight controllers from the ground. The purpose of remote control and robotics is to free up the ISS human crew so they can work on other important activities and conduct science experiments requiring on-site human thought and intervention.

Dextre "hangs out" in space with two Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) tools in its "hands." The RRM module is in the foreground. Credit: NASA

Over a three day period from March 7 to 9, engineers performed joint operations between NASA’s Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) experiment and the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) robotic “handyman” – the Dextre robot. Dextre is officially dubbed the SPDM or Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator.

On the first day, robotic operators on Earth remotely maneuvered the 12-foot (3.7 meter) long Dextre “handyman” to the RRM experiment using the space station’s Canadian built robotic arm (SSRMS).

Dextre’s “hand” – technically known as the “OTCM” – then grasped and inspected three different specialized satellite work tools housed inside the RRM unit . Comprehensive mechanical and electrical evaluations of the Safety Cap Tool, the Wire Cutter and Blanket Manipulation Tool, and the Multifunction Tool found that all three tools were functioning perfectly.

RRM Wire Cutter Tool (WCT) experiment is equipped with integral camera and LED lights -
on display at Kennedy Space Center Press Site. Dextre robot grasped the WCT with its hands and successfully snipped 2 ultra thin wires during the March 2012 RRM experiments. Credit: Ken Kremer

“Our teams mechanically latched the Canadian “Dextre” robot’s “hand” onto the RRM Safety Cap Tool (SCT). The RRM SCT is the first on orbit unit to use the video capability of the Dextre OTCM hand,” Cassidy explained.

“At the beginning of tool operations, mission controllers mechanically drove the OTCM’s electrical umbilical forward to mate it with the SCT’s integral electronics box. When the power was applied to that interface, our team was able to see that on Goddard’s large screen TVs – the SCT’s “first light” video showed a shot of the tool within the RRM stowage bay (see photo).

Shot of the Safety Cap Tool (SCT) tool within the RRM stowage bay. Credit NASA RRM

“Our team burst into a shout out of “Yeah!” to commend this successful electrical functional system checkout.”

Dextre then carried out assorted tasks aimed at testing how well a variety of representative gas fittings, valves, wires and seals located on the outside of the RRM module could be manipulated. It released safety launch locks and meticulously cut two extremely thin satellite lock wires – made of steel – and measuring just 20 thousandths of an inch (0.5 millimeter) in diameter.

“The wire cutting event was just minutes in duration. But both wire cutting tasks took approximately 6 hours of coordinated, safe robotic operations. The lock wire had been routed, twisted and tied on the ground at the interface of the Ambient Cap and T-Valve before flight,” said Cassidy.

This RRM exercise represents the first time that the Dextre robot was utilized for a technology research and development project on the ISS, a major expansion of its capabilities beyond those of robotic maintenance of the massive orbiting outpost.

Video Caption: Dextre’s Robotic Refueling Mission: Day 2. The second day of Dextre’s most demanding mission wrapped up successfully on March 8, 2012 as the robotic handyman completed his three assigned tasks. Credit: NASA/CSA

Wire Cutter Tool (WCT) Camera View of Ambient Cap Wire Cutting. Courtesy: Justin Cassidy to Universe Today. Credit NASA RRM

Altogether the three days of operations took about 43 hours, and proceeded somewhat faster than expected because they were as close to nominal as could be expected.

“Days 1 and 2 ran about 18 hours,” said Charles Bacon, the RRM Operations Lead/Systems Engineer at NASA Goddard, to Universe Today. “Day 3 ran approximately 7 hours since we finished all tasks early. All three days baselined 18 hours, with the team working in two shifts. So the time was as expected, and actually a little better since we finished early on the last day.”

Wire Cutter Tool (WCT) Camera View of T-Valve Wire Cutting. Courtesy: Justin Cassidy to Universe Today. Credit NASA RRM

“For the last several months, our team has been setting the stage for RRM on-orbit demonstrations,” Cassidy told me. “Just like a theater production, we have many engineers behind the scenes who have provided development support and continue to be a part of the on-orbit RRM operations.”

“At each stage of RRM—from preparation, delivery, installation and now the operations—I am taken aback by the immense efforts that many diverse teams have contributed to make RRM happen. The Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center teamed with Johnson Space Center, Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Marshall Space Flight Center and the Canadian Space Agency control center in St. Hubert, Quebec to make RRM a reality.”

“The success of RRM operations to date on the International Space Station (ISS) using Dextre is a testament to the excellence of NASA’s many organizations and partners,” Cassidy explained.

The three day “Gas Fittings Removal task” was an initial simulation to practice techniques essential for robotically fixing malfunctioning satellites and refueling otherwise nominally operating satellites to extend to hopefully extend their performance lifetimes for several years.

Ground-based technicians use the fittings and valves to load all the essential fluids, gases and fuels into a satellites storage tanks prior to launch and which are then sealed, covered and normally never accessed again.

“The impact of the space station as a useful technology test bed cannot be overstated,” says Frank Cepollina, associate director of the Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office (SSCO) at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

“Fresh satellite-servicing technologies will be demonstrated in a real space environment within months instead of years. This is huge. It represents real progress in space technology advancement.”

Four more upcoming RRM experiments tentatively set for this year will demonstrate the ability of a remote-controlled robot to remove barriers and refuel empty satellite gas tanks in space thereby saving expensive hardware from prematurely joining the orbital junkyard.

The timing of future RRM operations can be challenging and depends on the availability of Dextre and the SSRMS arm which are also heavily booked for many other ongoing ISS operations such as spacewalks, maintenance activities and science experiments as well as berthing and/or unloading a steady stream of critical cargo resupply ships such as the Progress, ATV, HTV, Dragon and Cygnus.

Flexibility is key to all ISS operations. And although the station crew is not involved with RRM, their activities might be.

“While the crew itself does not rely on Dextre for their operations, Dextre ops can indirectly affect what the crew can or can’t do,” Bacon told me. “For example, during our RRM operations the crew cannot perform certain physical exercise activities because of how that motion could affect Dextre’s movement.”

Here is a list of forthcoming RRM operations – pending ISS schedule constraints:

* Refueling (summer 2012) – After Dextre opens up a fuel valve that is similar to those commonly used on satellites today, it will transfer liquid ethanol into it through a sophisticated robotic fueling hose.

* Thermal Blanket Manipulation (TBD 2012)- Dextre will practice slicing off thermal blanket tape and folding back a thermal blanket to reveal the contents underneath.

* Screw (Fastener) Removal (TBD 2012)- Dextre will robotically unscrew satellite bolts (fasteners).

* Electrical Cap Removal (TBD 2012)- Dextre will remove the caps that would typically cover a satellite’s electrical receptacle.

RRM was carried to orbit inside the cargo bay of Space Shuttle Atlantis during July 2011 on the final shuttle mission (STS-135) of NASA’s three decade long shuttle program and then mounted on an external work platform on the ISS backbone truss by spacewalking astronauts. The project is a joint effort between NASA and CSA.

“This is what success is all about. With RRM, we are truly paving the way for future robotic exploration and satellite servicing,” Cassidy concluded.

Full size Mock up of RRM box and experiment tool at KSC Press Site
Equipment Tool movements and manipulations by Dextre robot are simulated by NASA Goddard RRM manager Justin Cassidy. Credit: Ken Kremer

March 24 (Sat): Free Lecture by Ken Kremer at the New Jersey Astronomical Association, Voorhees State Park, NJ at 830 PM. Topic: Atlantis, the End of Americas Shuttle Program, RRM, Orion, SpaceX, CST-100 and the Future of NASA Human & Robotic Spaceflight