Robotics and Space Biology Today as Cosmonauts Look to Next Spacewalk

NASA astronaut Anne McClain checks out new Astrobee hardware
NASA astronaut Anne McClain works inside the Japanese Kibo laboratory module checking out the new Astrobee hardware. The cube-shaped, free-flying robotic assistant could save the crew time performing routine maintenance duties and providing additional lab monitoring capabilities.

A pair of robotic arms from Canada and Japan continued swapping experiment hardware on the International Space Station over the weekend. Meanwhile, the Expedition 59 crew started the week exploring robotics and biology today while a pair of cosmonauts look to the next spacewalk.

The 57.7-foot-long Canadarm2 robotic arm started removing a pair of external investigations last week from the SpaceX Dragon’s unpressurized trunk. The remotely controlled Canadarm2 first grabbed the new Orbiting Carbon Observatory-3 (OCO-3) then handed it off to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA) robotic arm for installation on the Kibo lab module’s external pallet.

The Canadarm2 next removed the Space Test Program-Houston 6 (STP-H6) experiment from Dragon and installed it on the station’s truss structure. STP-H6 provides a platform for studying space physics to improve spacecraft navigation and communication techniques. The Canadian robotic arm then removed the completed SCAN radio communications study from the truss and placed it inside Dragon’s trunk.

JAXA’s robotic arm also retrieved the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System (CATS) experiment from the station and handed it off to the Canadarm2 for installation inside Dragon’s trunk. CATS successfully began demonstrating atmospheric monitoring after its delivery aboard a SpaceX Dragon cargo craft in January 2015. CATS and SCAN will now burn up in the atmosphere when Dragon’s trunk separates from the resupply ship before it returns to Earth at the end of May.

Back inside the orbital lab today, NASA astronaut Anne McClain calibrated the Astrobee and mapped the Kibo lab module with the free-flying robotic assistant. Flight Engineers Nick Hague and Christina Koch continued exploring how space changes the immune system, pathogens and kidney cells.

Two cosmonauts, Commander Oleg Kononenko and Flight Engineer Alexey Ovchinin, are planning for the fourth spacewalk at the station this year on May 29. The duo is timelined for about six hours of experiment retrieval work, window cleaning and sample collecting on the station’s Russian segment.

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