September 23, 2021

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Belgian technology on the International Space Station

After 15 years of delay, the European robotic arm ERA will soon join the International Space Station. Two Belgian companies Sabca and Spacebel participated in the programme.

finally. After 20 years of technical developments, developments and delays, The European Robotic Arm (ERA) is expected to join the International Space Station (ISS) next week. This compass-shaped handling equipment will be launched by a Proton rocket, usually on July 21, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome (Kazakhstan). With Russia’s Nauka Lab, a unit that will serve as a home base.

this arm One of the three major European contributions to the International Space Station, with the Columbus Laboratory and (dissolved) ATV supply ships. The software is outdated: it was officially put on the right track in 1995, and The construction of the ERA was completed at the end of 2004. Initially, it was planned to reach the International Space Station using a space shuttle. Then, It was decided to join the Russian franchise unit, which was renamed Nauka.

8

ton

ERA will be able to carry payloads of up to 8 tons on the Russian part of the International Space Station.

seven joints

ERA manipulator arm, carbon fiber, Completely different from the main manipulator arm of the space station Or their American shuttle counterparts, all built by Canada, or the Japanese arm already connected to the International Space Station. With a length of more than 11 meters (as opposed to more than 17 meters for the Kandarem, which was recently hit by small space debris) and a mass of 630 kg, the ERA will be able to transport payloads of up to 8 tons on the Russian part of the International Space Station.

It has 7 joints called elbows, shoulders, and wrists. Which will allow him to perform tasks that were previously assigned to the men, such as removing bulky equipment from the airlock. It will also be used during maintenance phases such as maintenance of solar batteries, installation and replacement of components or Visual inspection of the outer walls of the International Space Station. The robot can therefore support an astronaut to facilitate an inspection or mission off base.

The ERA arm will literally be able to walk on the Russian part of the International Space Station.
© AFP

In each of the two branches of ERA, There is a matching clutch that can be used as a foot or a kid. This will allow the arm to move from one anchor point to another And literally walking on the International Space Station. It cannot be controlled – in real time or in pre-programmed mode – not only From the inside, but also from outside the orbital station. Automation has been pushed to the limit and is another innovative feature compared to other ISS manipulators. On its end, the robot provides power, database, video line, and rotary driving machine.

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Operating with a precision of 5 millimeters, ERA is designed to operate for ten years. Life could be shortened if the International Space Station had to be abandoned before.


“It was a big first, which kind of started Sabca’s mechatronics business.”

Didier Decamps

Group Technical Director at Sabca.

Two Belgian companies Sabca and Spacebel participated in the ERA programme, Airbus Defense and Space was contracted to the Netherlands, a former subsidiary of Fokker. The Brussels manufacturer designed, developed and qualified The three types of arm jointsMany examples were built for testing purposes on land, especially in swimming pools. Spare parts from the arm were already sent to the International Space Station in 2010.

simulator

“We were specialists in mechanical, electronic and computer parts related to the joints,” recalls Didier Decamps, today’s group technical director at Sabca. “It was a great start, which was somewhat at the origin of the company’s mechatronics business, which then shifted more towards flight controls – or actuators – from Ariane. We developed hydraulic actuators for the Ariane 5 and then electromechanical actuators for the Vega and parts for the Ariane. 6″.


Spacebel was involved in the design and production of the human-machine interface that covers all control elements.

For its part, Spacebel, a company specializing in aerospace computer engineering, participated Human-machine interface design and production Covers all commands, as well as monitoring tool activity and status. This interface will deal with the robotic arm of the Russian compact unit. The Belgian company also participated in ERA ground equipment development, in particular the simulator Allowing astronauts to practice arm manipulation on the ground and has also developed a simplified simulator, which will be on board the International Space Station, which will allow astronauts to perfect their in-flight training and develop intervention strategies in the event of an unexpected situation.

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Conclusion

  • European robotic arm ERA will join the week next one International Space Station (ISS).
  • this arm One of Europe’s three major contributions to the International Space Station, with Columbus Laboratory and ATV fuel suppliers.
  • Although it had been ready for a very long time, this equipment had to wait The launch of the Russian Nauka unit, it was postponed several times.
  • Two Belgian companies Sabca and Spacebel participated in the ERA programme, Airbus Defense and Space was contracted to the Netherlands.