(Leiden/ Noordwijk, The Netherlands, May 12, 2010) -- Space Shuttle Atlantis, ready for liftoff on Friday May 14th, will deliver ESA's spare hardware for the European Robotic Arm (ERA) to the International Space Station. The ERA hardware, including the spare elbow joint of the arm, will be launched as payload on the Russian-built Mini Research Module MRM-1. Bringing the ERA spare to ISS is a significant step towards the launch of the actual flight model of the robotic arm, scheduled in 2012, providing a robotic servicing system that will be used in the operation of external payloads on the Russian segment of the ISS.
The European Robotic Arm is one of the most comprehensive space projects ever executed in the Netherlands. ERA has been developed for ESA by a European consortium, led by Dutch Space, with subcontractors in eight countries. Bart Reijnen, CEO of Dutch Space: "The launch of the spare hardware highlights the enormous effort put in the development of the European Robotic Arm by all parties involved over the past years. Looking forward, it is an important milestone towards the peak of the ERA project, the launch of the flight model." Launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis on its STS-132 mission to the ISS is set for May 14 at 2:20 p.m. EDT (20:20 hours CET).
"Already now, more than a third of the pressurised Station elements are built and designed in Europe and European knowhow is keeping the Station in operation," says Simonetta Di Pippo, ESA's Director of Human Spaceflight. "Launching the ERA spare arm is an important step in keeping the ability for demanding robotic operations in case of technical failures - these may happen during the prolonged life of the ISS."
"The importance of this launch is wider than just the launch of a spare arm without hands," explains Philippe Schoonejans, ERA project manager at ESA. "The fact that the Russian space agency launches on this flight with MRM-1 several pieces of hardware designed for operation by ERA makes this launch a precursor for the operational phase of ERA."
MRM-1 will be attached to ISS on flight day 5 to the Earth-facing side of the Zarya module. In addition to the spare hardware for the European Robotic Arm that is mounted on the MRM-1 (photo) the first Russian payloads to use the arm will be launched. These components - a portable external work platform, an airlock and radiator - will be used to outfit the Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module, scheduled for launch in the first half of 2012, and will be placed by the ERA flight model.
The ERA project included the delivery of the flight model, a spare model, a qualification model and several test models for training purposes, such as a mock-up for use in water tanks by trainee cosmonauts/ astronauts. Dutch Space also provided the control software, the advanced simulation system for operational planning, definition of procedures and mission evaluation and cosmonaut training purposes.
ERA, a walking arm
The European Robotic Arm (photo) will be a crucial piece of equipment on the Russian segment of the International Space Station. The intelligent robot arm, with a total length of eleven meters, looks like a pair of compasses and has the ability to 'walk' around the exterior of the ISS under its own control, hand-over-hand between pre-fixed base-points. Cosmonauts/ astronauts can control the robot from both inside as well as outside the space station. With the aid of ERA, cosmonauts will be relieved from many routine, but fatiguing and potentially hazardous tasks outside the space station.
The European Robotic Arm would initially be launched in 2002, but was postponed due to delays in the Space Shuttle program and budgetary problems in Russia.
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