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The Feasibility of Using Robotic Systems at the International Space Station for Exterior Inspections

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Master's thesis

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The ability to inspect or observe a structure from an external perspective is very important when that structure is an orbiting space station. In fact, whether or not the capability to do so exists at a space station could have a critical effect on the lives of the astronauts living and working on board. For example, in June of 1997, a Progress resupply vehicle struck the Space Station Mir during the testing of a manual redocking system. The collision caused the pressure in the damaged Spektr module to drop to vacuum. 6 Mir power and thermal control subsystems were also damaged in the collision. During a press briefing about the accident, Frank Culbertson, NASA Program Manager of the Shuttle-Mir Program, was asked what the plans were to recover from the accident and whether the astronauts on board could get up to Spektr to look around. His response included the following excerpt The Russians are looking at several different ways they rnight repair a potential leak, but the problem is they dont know exactly what it looks like or where its located. So until we know the exact character and location of the hole, its difficult to build a specific repair procedure. So I believe that looking at the area, if theyre going to do a repair, is critical. Repairs of the module could not even be planned because there was no immediate way to examine the exterior of the damaged station. Two whole months passed before two of the crewmembers spent six hours during an Extra Vehicular Activity EVA trying to look at the damage up close.18 Even the Space Shuttle was used as an orbiting inspection device on occasion. Clearly, safer and more time efficient methods of exterior inspection were required.

Subject Categories:

  • Cybernetics
  • Manned Spacecraft

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