A NASA research mission testing automated satellite refueling and repair was delayed following an error in the software controlling the International Space Station’s (ISS) robotic arm. The experiment, which started on January 14 and was expected to last around 10 days, was postponed for a week after one day of operation so that engineers could make necessary adjustments, Space.com reported.
The NASA Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) was designed to test robots’ ability to handle on-orbit satellite refueling and repair, according to Space.com. If the technique proves successful it could extend satellite lives, saving operators billions of dollars, but the approach is challenging, as most current satellites were not designed to be serviced. The same technologies could eventually be used to clean up space debris or improve the efficacy of a future Mars mission, NASA officials noted.
The RRM experiment involves the use of the robotic arm on ISS, called Canadarm2, and an attached robot, dubbed Dextre. Dextre is required to snip wires, unscrew caps and pump simulated fuel in the experiment, Space.com explained. A previous trial on land involving the snipping of two very thin wires with only millimeters of clearance was successful. The latest attempt, however, was delayed.
“An intermittent difference in the software that controls of Canadarm2, the International Space Station’s Canadian-built Remote Manipulator System, requires further analysis to ensure safe operations,” NASA officials wrote in a mission update. “Canadarm2 and the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, or Dextre, has temporarily been placed in a safe configuration while engineering teams on the ground assess the data.”
After relaunching the mission, NASA announced on January 25 that it had been completed successfully. Researchers and organizations carrying out this type of high-stakes testing need to be assured of the integrity of their equipment, and taking the time to guarantee flawless coding in embedded software is one step in reaching that level of assurance. By using tools such as static analysis, equipment makers can reduce the chance of a bug halting or delaying scheduled projects.
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