The International Space Station has several robotic arms. The main purpose of these arms is to reduce the number of spacewalks. Even though the spacesuits used for spacewalks protect against most of the dangers of space, there is still a high risk performing spacewalks, such as high-energy rays.
In addition, spacewalks are time consuming, require a high level of training and are expensive.
The European Robotic Arm (ERA) is one of the robotic arms on board the ISS. It will be used to install and replace solar arrays, inspect and assemble
modules and to support and transfer astronauts performing spacewalks.
Although smaller than Canada's “Canadarm2”, ERA is a large robot by any standards – it is about 11.3 m long and weighs 630 kg. It has the capacity of handling up to
8000 kg. The arm is almost like a human arm with joints and the ability to grip, hold and twist – but it runs on wires and
motors, and is symmetrical.
On both sides of its “elbow” it has:
||Two “wrists” and
||Two end-effectors, where the ends act as either a “hand” for the robot or as a base from which the arm can operate.
The robotic arm can be controlled either from the inside of the Space Station via two computers, or from the outside via a control panel and a computer. Cameras
are mounted on the robotic arm to allow the astronauts to monitor and control the movements of the arm.
The Space Station will have a special control room for robotic activities. The dome-like structure is called Cupola, and the seven windows make it easy for the astronauts to monitor all movements of the robotic arms. The Cupola is one of
the European contributions to the Station and will, in addition to the control function, work as an observatory where the
astronauts can enjoy the panoramic view.