Space X Launches 19th Mission to ISS With Toolbox for Robotic Spacewalks

Eloise Marshall
December 4, 2019

The RiTS will launch today overseas Space-X' Dragon Spacecraft, on a Falcon 9 rocket at around 12:50 p.m. from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. About 5,700 pounds of supplies and payloads will head to the International Space Station if all goes well Wednesday morning during SpaceX's 19th resupply mission to the station. So what is this "hotel"?

Depending on how eager you are to anthropomorphize robots, the "hotel" designation might not be quite as appropriate as "garage" - this unit is essentially a protected parking space for robots when not in use, helping to protect them from potential dangers presented by being in space, including exposure to radiation, and the potential to get hit by micrometeors and other debris.

The first robots to grace the RiTS will be two Robotic External Leak Locators (RELL), and they do precisely what their name suggests: find leaks on the outside hull of the ISS.

When the vehicle arrives at the orbiting laboratory on December 7, Expedition 61 Commander Luca Parmitano of the ESA (European Space Agency) will maneuver the Dragon, with NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan will step in with backup operations.

Deploying detection robots usually takes much longer when the tool is not externally stored.

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"The objective is to protect sensitive tools and make them more accessible and easier to use", Mark Neuman, RiTS project manager for Northrop Grumman.

NASA astronauts have been riding Russian rockets to the space station, for tens of millions of dollars per seat, while awaiting the repeatedly delayed commercial crew vehicles.

"This hardware will significantly reduce time and cost for the station crew to deploy leak detection capabilities using Dextre", said Chris Craw, NASA Senior Systems Integration Lead. Also, it will help the space station's robotic arm, Dextre, easily locate, grab and put back those robotic tools.

After its launch, the RiTS will be installed via a spacewalk by astronauts, and it will then stay on the outside of the station.

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