Scientific materials supplier Goodfellow Cambridge Ltd and Satellite Applications Catapult collaborated at this year’s Space-Comm Expo, held at Farnborough International Exhibition and Conference Centre on 7-8 June, to showcase the application of robotics in space maintenance missions.

A live demonstration of a robotic arm took place on the companies’ stand during the event, whereby a hatch was opened on the side of a model spacecraft, a fault was detected, removed and replaced before the hatch was closed and normal operations resumed.

“The robot is essentially doing the role of the astronaut,” explained James Taylor, account manager, Goodfellow Cambridge Limited. “It perhaps takes away the romance of space but realistically you don’t want astronauts outside for safety and security issues. If you can get around the radiation and temperature extremes, you can fix things using robots. Also, robotic arms are far more accurate than the traditional astronaut gloves, and testing something hazardous or delicate – such as vegetation – in space using a robot arm is safer and more accurate.”

Industry standardisation a must

According to Alex Goodhand, manufacturing engineer, Satellite Applications Catapult, more needs to be done to develop the use of robotics in the space sector.

“One thing we’re trying to push for and really need in the industry is a standardisation of components, which would make the application of robotics much easier. Technologically, standardisation is easy but commercially it is far more challenging, but it has been done in other sectors and should be transported over to the space sector.”
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