The European robotic arm (ERA) left with Nauka, the new module of the Russian part of the International Space Station. The two will not be matched with their new home for a few days. ERA will then become the first robotic arm on the Russian side, and the third in total on the station.
It had been a long time since a launch like this happened. The last module of the ISS left eleven years ago, the last robotic arm even a year earlier. In addition, given the relatively advanced age of the ISS, it is likely that this will be the last time the station will be expanded in this way.
The Netherlands played a special role in the development of the ERA. “You can safely call ERA a Dutch robotic arm,” said Sytze Kampen, ERA project manager at Airbus, the company that coordinated the work on the robotic arm. by Volkskrant. Our country did about two-thirds of the work and also paid two-thirds of the costs. The Netherlands funded a total of around 235 million euros of the 360 million euros the project cost. There is no other component of the ISS with such large red-white-blue content.
Once aboard the ISS, ERA must, among other things, participate in work on the station that would otherwise require astronauts to conduct unsafe spacewalks. The arm will also move science experiments from inside the station to the outside, where they will be exposed to the inhospitable conditions of space. In this way, scientists have studied in the past whether fungi and bacteria can survive in space, an important problem for those who are afraid of infecting other planets with “our” microbes, and for those who wonder. if life on Earth can have an extraterrestrial origin. . . .
Long way to space
But the most special thing about ERA is the arm’s extremely long journey to space. It has taken more than 35 years, from the original plans of the 1980s, when the arm was still intended for the Space Shuttle Hermes (the European counterpart to the American space shuttles that would never be built), until now. In particular, developments in Russia, with which agreements were reached after the failure of Hermes, have resulted in increasing delays.
The arm would be placed there on Mir-2, the planned successor to the Russian space station MIR. Later it became the ISS, after Russia decided to participate in this international project and scrapped its own station. Around 2001, however, the ISS module on which the arm would come – the Science Power Platform – was also scrapped, after which the wait for a new home began. This house finally arrived in the now launched Nauka module, a spare that the Russians have yet repaired for this space travel.
However, getting such an old module ready for launch turned out to be more difficult than hoped. The engines were leaking, the fuel tanks contained metal flakes, the warranty on all kinds of parts expired. But now, after years of delay, repair and cleaning, the module was finally ready to go. With ERA. “We started this when we were all still young,” Kampen said. “It’s special that we are finally launching after all these years.”