NASA’s Robonaut Legs Headed for International Space Station

NASA’s built and is sending a set of high-tech legs up to the International Space Station for Robonaut 2 (R2), the station’s robotic crewmember. The new legs are scheduled to launch on the next SpaceX commercial cargo flight to the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The Spacex launch had been delayed but should be taking off April 14. A pair of liftoffs vital to US National Security and NASA/SpaceX are now slated for April 10 and April 14 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station after revitalizing the radar systems. The tracking radar is an absolutely essential asset for the Eastern Range that oversees all launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Falcon 9 is lofting a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship and delivering some 5000 pounds of science experiments and supplies for the six man space station crew – under a resupply contract with NASA.

The new Robonaut legs, funded by NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations and Space Technology mission directorates, will provide R2 the mobility it needs to help with regular and repetitive tasks inside and outside the space station. The goal is to free up the crew for more critical work, including scientific research.

Once the legs are attached to the R2 torso, the robot will have a fully extended leg span of nine feet, giving it great flexibility for movement around the space station. Each leg has seven joints and a device on what would be the foot, called an “end effector,” which allows the robot to take advantage of handrails and sockets inside and outside the station. A vision system for the end effectors also will be used to verify and eventually automate each limb’s approach and grasp.

NASA’s Robonaut 2 with the newly developed climbing legs, designed to give the robot mobility in zero gravity.
Image Credit: NASA

The new legs are designed for work both inside and outside the station, but upgrades to R2’s upper body will be necessary before it can begin work outside the space station.

The legless R2, currently attached to a support post, is undergoing experimental trials with astronauts aboard the orbiting laboratory. Since its arrival at the station in February 2011, R2 has performed a series of tasks to demonstrate its functionality in microgravity:

With legs, R2 will be able to assist astronauts with both hands while keeping at least one leg anchored to the station structure at all times. Image Credit: NASA

* During its initial checkout, R2 used sign language to say hello to the world.
* It was the first humanoid robot to shake hands with a human in space: International Space Station Commander Dan Burbank.
* It has worked with its controllers over several months and showed its capabilities for pressing buttons, flipping, switches and turning knobs.
* The robot worked with two crew tools: the air flow meter and an RFID inventory scanner.
* In another R2 important first, the robot was teleoperated by astronaut Tom Marshburn, who used it to catch a free-floating object inside the U.S. lab module of the space station.

In preparation for future spacewalks, R2 has worked inside the space station with space blankets and other flexible materials, both through ground control and through teleoperation by the on-board crew.

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