New Delhi Dec 7 (UNI) In a first of its kind, robots are set to get their first ‘Hotel’ in space as NASA’s 19th SpaceX commercial resupply mission reaches International Space Station on Sunday.
NASA has launched the Robotic Tool Stowage (RiTS), a protective storage unit for critical robotic tools on December 5 in 19th SpaceX mission and popularly termed it as ‘Robot Hotel’. This will be attached to the outside of space station. Its first residents will be two Robotic External Leak Locators (RELL) all ready present in International Space Station.
Outfitted with mass spectrometers capable of “sniffing” out the presence of gases such as ammonia, these robotic tools are used to detect leaks from the station. The first RELL launched in 2015, and it proved to be such a success that a second RELL was launched as a backup earlier this year.
RiTS will be installed through a special spacewalk by astronauts, and it will then stay the outside the station. RiTS even mounts to the robotic platform that moves Dextre up and down the external rails on station and ensures a RELL tool will always be accessible.
‘For each of its stored tools, RiTS will provide heat and physical protection from radiation and micrometeroids, or tiny, high-speed objects hurtling through space,’ said Mark Neuman, RiTS hardware manager.
‘Its thermal system maintains ideal temperatures for the instruments, helping them stay functional,’ he said. Having this housing unit in place will also help the space station’s robotic arm, Dextre, to easily locate, grab and put back these important tools.
RELL is a robotic tool operated remotely by mission controllers on the ground, created to facilitate space station repairs, but requires crew schedule and airlock availability to bring RELL outside the station with the use of station’s Dextre robotic tool. Hence, the process of deploying RELL takes much longer when the tool is not externally stored.
Once outside the station, RELL currently needs to wait 12 hours in space before it can be used. This allows for RELL’s extremely sensitive gas analyzer to clear itself of water vapor and other gases from inside the station, essentially giving the instruments a clean slate.
Because of this extensive process, it could take multiple weeks or even months from the time a leak is suspected, to the time RELL is deployed, to then find out where it is coming from. With RiTS, this entire process would only depend on Dextre’s availability, greatly expediting the search for leaks, NASA said in a press release.
Over its lifetime, the space station has accumulated occasional small ammonia leaks at its joints, often as a result of micrometeroids. While not a safety risk to the crew, these microscopic leaks can impact the cooling system’s efficiency, which relies on ammonia to maintain habitable temperatures for the crew and equipment on board.
‘This hardware will significantly reduce time and cost for the station crew to deploy leak detection capabilities using Dextre,’ said NASA Senior Systems Integration Lead Chris Craw. ‘With RiTS, we’ll have easier and faster access to RELL, which can help ensure our astronauts’ safety in space,’ he added.
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