'Walking' Robot Arm Will Launch to ISS After 20-Year Delay

The European Robotic Arm (ERA) will act like an arcade crane for spacewalkers.
Chris Young
Artist's impression of the ERA in operationESA

The European Robotic Arm (ERA) is set to finally launch to the International Space Station (ISS) on July 15, and dock on July 23, following two decades of delays due to technical issues, a report by Inceptive Mind reveals.

The robot, which will "walk" around the outside of the Russian segment of the ISS, will be sent on a Russian Proton rocket, which will also carry the Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module, called 'Nauka'.

As a post by the European Space Agency (ESA) explains, the 36-foot-long (11 meters) space robot has the ability to anchor itself to the outside of the ISS and move between fixed points.

ERA will assist astronauts during spacewalks and it can help install and replace elements on the outside of the ISS. With seven joints, it is able to handle multi-tonne payloads with a large range of motion.

As the ESA post puts it, the agile robot should reduce the need for spacewalks, though it "will also help spacewalkers by transporting them around like a cherry-picker crane."

ERA robotic arm will finally launch after two decades of technical issues

The robot can be controlled by astronauts from inside or outside the International Space Station, and it can be controlled in real-time or pre-programmed to carry out a set of functions. It also features four infrared cameras that can help with inspections on the exterior of the ISS.

The robot, which is largely funded by the Dutch government, was made by a consortium of European companies including Airbus Defence, Space Netherlands, and ESA. As per Incentive Mind, the launch of ERA was delayed by two decades of technical and programmatic issues.

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'Walking' Robot Arm Will Launch to ISS After 20-Year Delay
Source: ESA

The robotic arm launches at a strange time for the International Space Station, which has underseen breakthrough research investigations, including recent experiments with the Bose-Einstein Quantum state, or the "fifth state of matter."

With international agreements on the operation of the ISS set to expire in 2024 and Russia announced it will build its own separate space station after that time. 

Perhaps ERA might even help to automate certain operations as international space agencies gradually phase out human operation of the ISS over the coming years.

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