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Shuttle Robot Arm

Summary of Space Shuttle robot arm (Shuttle Remote Manipulator System: SRMS)

Use of Shuttle Robot Arm
The Shuttle's robot arm is used for various purposes.
  • Satellite deployment and retrieval
  • Construction of International Space Station
  • Transport an EVA crew member at the end of the arm and provide a scaffold to him or her. (An EVA crew member moves inside the cargo bay in cooperation with the support crew inside the Shuttle.)
  • Survey the outside of the Space Shuttle with a TV camera attached to the elbow or the wrist of the robot arm.

45 feet
15 in
911 lb
Number of joints
Six joints (two shoulder joints, one elbow joint, and three wrist joints)
Max handling capacity
266 tons (in space)
Max velocity of end of arm
When the arm is not gripping anything : 60 cm/sec
When the arm is gripping an object : 6 cm/sec
Max rotational speed
Approx. 5 degree/sec
Boom material
Graphite-epoxy compound
Shuttle robot arm (SRMS) observed from the aft deck.
Overview shape of SRMS

SRMS operation

Robot arm operation (STS-92)
SRMS is operated inside the Space Shuttle cabin. The operation is performed from the aft flight deck (AFD), right behind the cockpit, either through the window or by watching two TV monitors.
To control the SRMS, the operator uses the translational hand controller (THC) with his or her left hand and manipulates the rotational hand controller (RHC) with his or her right hand.

Translational hand controller (THC)

Rotational hand controller (RHC)

How Space Shuttle robot arm grasps objects.
End effector of Kibo's manipulator. Same shape as SRMS.
How does the Space Shuttle robot arm grasp objects? Many people might think of human hand or magic hand, but its mechanism is as follows.
At the end of the robot arm is a cylinder called the end effector. Inside this cylinder equiped three wires that are used to grasp objects. The object to be grasped needs to have a stick-shaped projection called a grapple fixture. The three wires in the cylinder fix this grapple fixture at the center of the cylinder.
However, a sight is needed to acquire the grapple fixture while manipulating a robot arm as long as 45 feet. The grapple fixture has a target mark, and a rod is mounted vertically on this mark. The robot arm operator monitors the TV image of the mark and the rod, and operates the robot arm to approach the target while keeping the rod standing upright to the robot arm. If the angular balance between the rod and the robot arm is lost, that can immediately be detected through the TV image.

Grapple fixture/Target

End effector and grapple fixture
Robot arm's payload acquiring sequence

SVS(Space Vision System)
SVS target attached to the Unity module (black round spots with white backgr
The Space Vision System (SVS) is an aid developed by Canada and the US to precisely measure the location, attitude, and moving rate of objects in real time by analyzing the TV image of the SVS target.
Several dot patterns on a payload or ISS elements are used as SVS targets. Three- dimensional fine positions of these targets are measured on the Earth prior to flight, and the data are referenced for measuring the movement of the target. Optical characteristics of the TV camera lenses need to be acquired beforehand as well. SVS information will be displayed on the monitor graphically and numerically for use of astronauts.
For measurement, at least three SVS targets must be visible and five targets are preferable. Since distortion due to lighting or thermal conditions could cause errors, these effects must be minimized.
During Shuttle robot arm (SRMS) or the International Space Station (ISS) robot arm (SSRMS) operations to assemble the ISS, SVS will be a necessary technology used in combination with TV camera images when the operator can't directly(note) see the objects to be manipulateed.
Note. Before the ISS assembly began, Shuttle robot arm operations were performed by a crew member watching the manipulated objects through the Shuttle window.

Robot arm operation mode
The robot arm can be operated by Space Shuttle crew members. However, automatic mode, in which the robot arm moves automatically along a trajectory computed on the Earth is also possible. There is also another mode in which single joint can be driven. These methods are selected to suite the needs of the operation.

Procedure for installing the Z1 truss using the robotic arm
Procedure for installing the Z1 truss using the robotic arm
First, using the Shuttle's robotic arm, grapple the Z1 truss which is anchored to the cargo bay. Next, operate to release the latches which are holding the Z1 truss in the cargo bay, then unberth the Z1 truss.

Manipulate the robotic arm while observing the camera image on the TV monitor installed on the operation console, then slowly maneuver the Z1 truss toward Unity.

Turn the Z1 truss 180 degrees in order to bring the side to be connected into line with Unity.

After bringing the Z1 truss to a point about 60 cm from Unity, use the Space Vision System (SVS) to continue to move the Z1 truss accurately toward the connecting point with Unity. Using the capture latch, temporarily connect the Z1 truss to the Common Berthing Mechanism (CBM) of Unity, then send an instruction from the Shuttle to install the Z1 truss to Unity using the 16 drive bolts inside the CBM. This will be the first attempt to conduct connecting of ISS modules in space by using a CBM.

PMA-3 installation procedure using the robotic arm
Procedure for installing the Z1 truss using the robotic arm
The procedure for installing PMA-3 is basically the same as that for the Z1 truss. At first the EVA crew members will release the bolts that fasten the PMA-3 to the cargo bay.

Then Astronaut Wakata will unberth the PMA-3 from the cargo bay and maneuver it to Unity by using the robotic arm. The same way as the Z1 truss, PMA-3 will be installed to Unity by using the position and attitude information of the Space Vision System, while the EVA crew members will observe the operations.

Last Updated : September 28, 2000

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