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Canadian Space Robot Dextre to Expand Ability to Refuel Spacecraft in Orbit

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
August 15, 2019
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Rendering of Dextre on the end of Canadarm2, holding an advanced vision system. (Credit: CSA/Neptec)

LONGUEUIL, Quebec (CSA PR) — From August 13 to 14, Dextre, Canada’s robotic handyman on the International Space Station, will conduct a demonstration of how robots could refuel satellites and spacecraft to extend their useful lifetimes.

NASA’s Robotic Refueling Mission 3 (RRM3) will use Dextre’s proven ability to perform highly delicate tasks on the International Space Station, to test the hardware and procedures needed to store and transfer cryogenic fluids.

These fluids, which include liquid methane and hydrogen, are vital to the future of space exploration because they are used as coolant and fuel by satellites and spacecraft.

Being able to robotically refill these gases in liquid form while in orbit would enable longer exploration missions farther from Earth. For example, water available on the Moon could be chemically split into liquid hydrogen – the basis for rocket fuel – and liquid oxygen, which could replenish reserves of breathable air as astronaut crews travel to more distant destinations.

Working with cryogenic fluids in microgravity requires precision, as they:

  • must be kept at very low temperatures to avoid easy evaporation
  • would be in limited supply in remote places like the Moon or Mars

Robotics flight controllers on the ground will operate Dextre during RRM3 operations using tools specially designed for the test. Dextre aced previous phases of the mission between 2011 and 2016, which included the installation of the payload itself followed by the demonstration of tasks including cap removal, wire cutting, and valve-opening – all on a mock satellite the size of a washing machine fitted with various satellite-like interfaces.

For more updates on Canadian robotics operations, follow the Canadian Space Agency on social media.