by Staff Writers
Bonn, Germany (SPX) Oct 04, 2011
The ROKVISS (Robotik-Komponenten-Verifikation auf der ISS - Robotic Components Verification on the ISS) technology experiment developed by the German Aerospace Center has returned to Earth after six years in space. The DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics took delivery of the robotic arm in Oberpfaffenhofen a few weeks ago.
The results from the initial functional tests are now available; ROKVISS dealt with operations on the exterior wall of the International Space Station (ISS) without any problems - to the absolute delight of the experts.
"It is almost unbelievable; the robotic system is functioning just as well as it did on the first day - no rattles, no unusual noises from the gearbox, and the joints are moving completely smoothly. It is as though ROKVISS had never left the laboratory," reports project leader Klaus Landzettel from the DLR Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics.
The surface of ROKVISS is also intact; there are no signs of impacts or other damage. Only the colour of the 50 centimetre / 7 kilogram robotic arm has changed - from grey to light brown in one place.
However, before the DLR researchers could switch ROKVISS on, they needed to reassemble the robotic arm (which had been partially dismantled for the return journey) and carry out initial functional tests to check the electronic system. The preparation phase was expected to last two days, but in just two hours the system was ready for operation. "The success of the ROKVISS mission far exceeded our expectations," concludes Landzettel.
Return on Soyuz
As the case provided was too small for the entire robotic arm, it had to be disassembled into several parts by the ISS crew. To accomplish this, DLR researchers devised precise instructions for the astronauts to remove ROKVISS during extravehicular excursion and then disassemble the joints step by step in a specific order. Once it was taken apart, the robotic arm fitted exactly into the 47 x 16 x 16 centimetre transportation container.
The future of robotics
This is particularly applicable to the Deutsche Orbital Servicing Mission (DEOS), planned for 2015 and designed to capture defective satellites with a robotic arm and dispose of them in a controlled manner. The researchers can also use the knowledge acquired from ROKVISS to prepare the humanoid robot Justin for use in space.
Significance for science
The developers can now go one step further and see the effects of the shift from Earth's atmosphere to a vacuum. Are certain effects reversed when the system re-enters the atmosphere from space? This primarily concerns materials and the inner workings of the robotic system - transmission friction and the lubricants and adhesives used.
Additional tests on ROKVISS are planned in the coming weeks, when the technology experiment will be fully disassembled into its individual components and analysed together with Russian colleagues.
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Commercial space deliveries 'within months': NASA
Cape Town (AFP) Oct 3, 2011
The US space agency NASA said Monday it expects commercial operators will deliver cargo to space within months, stressing that private missions were crucial to its future human activities. "It is months before we have commercial entities carrying cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), not years," said NASA head Charles Bolden, saying that two companies were preparing to fly final de ... read more
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