Astronauts set up first robot petrol pump that will one day let craft ‘fill up’ in space

Development will do for space what mid-air refuelling did for aircraft
Work was done on final spacewalk of the Space Shuttle programme

Clear-up: Astronaut Ron Garan rides on the robotic arm as he transfers a failed pump module to the cargo bay of the space shuttle

Scientists have begun testing a robot petrol pump attendant and handyman that has been installed on the International Space Station.

Canadian researchers working with Nasa have fitted a satellite mock-up to the station’s twin-armed robot called Dextre for a Robotic Refuelling Mission……

It is hoped that successful experiments will pave the way for visiting space craft to ‘fill up’ without astronauts leaving their vehicles.

It could also help with repairs which would save space on board shuttles and enable longer periods in space.

Dextre is being touted as the first in a generation of orbital petrol pump attendants which will be able to do for space craft what mid-air refuelling jets do for planes.

The robotic arm was installed in 2008 and has since undergone a variety of tests. The dishwasher-sized satellite was put in place during the final spacewalk of Nasa’s 30-year shuttle programme on Monday.

Astronauts Ron Garan and Mike Fossum spent six-and-a-half hours crawling around the outside of the International Space Station to attach it. They also retrieved a broken ammonia pump.

Upon their return to Earth the shuttle Atlantis will be retired, bringing to an end Nasa’s historic programme.

Dextre will use four specialised tools to manipulate the variety of nozzles and knobs on the mock-up during two years of extensive experiments.

The final spacewalk: Astronaut Mike Fossum, in the centre of our image in front of the outline of the earth, was attached to the end of the International Space Station's Canada Hand. The operation took six and a half hours.

Guided by humans back on Earth he will cut wires, remove caps and ‘fill up’ with simulated fuel.
Astronauts have carried out these duties on space craft before including on the Hubble telescope, but if Dextre is able to do them it will be the most complex operation ever carried out by a robot in space.
Assuming it is a success the next stage will be to launch a mission to a satellite with low fuel and a Dextre-style robot on board as early as 2013.
‘We anticipate it enabling future missions, future capabilities, for the international aerospace community,’ Benjamin Reed, RRM deputy project manager at Nasa’s Satellite Servicing Capabilities Office, told Fox News.
The researchers are also hoping that private sector investors will be interested and are happy to share their data.
‘We’re going to make this data available to everybody,’ said Frank Cepollina, another RRM project leader.
‘That is, all commercial industry that may want to leap off and start their own ventures.’
Dextre is known as a Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator or Canada Hand, a nod to the fact it was created by Canadian scientists in partnership with Nasa.
The robot has the look of a headless body and has been designed to be extremely flexible with two 11ft long arms and a waist that can pivot.
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