Robotic arms install remote-sensing instrument on ISS

Robotic flight controllers have successfully installed NASA’s Cloud Aerosol Transport System (CATS) aboard the International Space Station.

The feat was achieved with the help of a robotic hand-off – the first time one robotic arm on station has worked in concert with a second robotic arm, the US space agency said in a statement.

CATS will collect data about clouds, volcanic ash plumes and tiny airborne particles that can help improve our understanding of aerosol and cloud interactions, and improve the accuracy of climate change models.

Ground controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in the US used one of the space station’s robotic arms, called the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, to extract the instrument from the capsule.

The NASA-controlled arm then passed the instrument to a second robotic arm – like passing a baton in a relay race.

robotic arm iss
The Japanese robotic arm installs the CATS experiment on an external platform on Japan’s Kibo lab module. The SpaceX Dragon commercial cargo craft is seen at the right center of the image. Credit: NASA TV

This second arm, called the Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System, is controlled by the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency.

The Japanese-controlled arm installed the instrument on the ISS’ Japanese Experiment Module, making CATS the first NASA-developed payload to fly on the Japanese module.

CATS is currently sending health and status data back to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, where the instrument’s data would be analysed.

CATS is a LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging), remote-sensing instrument designed to last from six months to three years.

It is specifically intended to demonstrate a low-cost, streamlined approach to developing science payloads on the space station.

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