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RRM Task : Refueling : Day by Day

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January 14, 2013

Robotic Refueling Mission Update: Beginning Day 1 of Operations

Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) operations on the International Space Station begin again today!

Over five days scattered throughout January 14-24, dedicated NASA and Canadian Space Station operators at Johnson Space Center will be commanding the Dextre robot to pick up RRM tools and practice a set of robotic refueling tasks on the RRM module—a high-tech busy-board that allows us to practice robotic servicing tasks.

While the RRM action unfolds on the International Space Station ~200 miles above our heads, here on the ground the RRM team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center will be "on console," following along and supervising operations from the Goddard Satellite Servicing Control Center. Led by RRM Operations Manager Charlie Bacon, the team of RRM engineers will be listening to the Johnson Space Center and International Space Station feeds and offering direction throughout ops. Meanwhile, across the Goddard campus the RRM robotics team will be mimicking the on-orbit tasks with "Rosie" - the RRM high-fidelity mock-up—in the Goddard Satellite Servicing Center

Today, Day 1, we'll be tackling these activities:

  1. The Dextre handyman robot will grasp the RRM Wire Cutter Tool and pull it out of the RRM module,
  2. He'll then use the Tool to cut Tertiary Cap Wire (remember, real satellite's fuel valves are wired shut)
  3. Afterwards, Dextre will then grasp and un-stow the RRM Multifunction Tool, which he'll then use to
  4. Remove the Tertiary Cap—one of the caps that covers a satellite's fuel valve.

We then have three more days of robotic work ahead of us, with all of these activities building up to the big task that we've all been waiting for: the robotic refueling demo! Taking place on "Day 5" of operations, January 23-24, mission operators will then send a sequence of commands to RRM, directing it to transfer liquid ethanol from RRM's fluid transfer system, into the RRM Nozzle tool and through the attached fuel valve.

+ NASA feature: NASA's Robotic Refueling Demo Set to Jumpstart Expanded Capabilities in Space

January 15, 2013

Robotic Refueling Mission Update: Day 2 of Ops

Thanks to the hard work of the NASA and CSA teams at Johnson and Goddard, the first day of RRM operations on the International Space Station was successful completed!

Before RRM operations began, the NASA teams at Johnson and Goddard and the CSA team spent hundreds of hours practicing the RRM procedures on console and in the Goddard Satellite Servicing Center. Their work paid off when they had to flip to pre-prepared procedures to move the newly cut wire that may have gotten in the way of unscrewing the fuel cap. Carefully controlled by the JSC robo team on the ground, Dextre used the RRM Wire Tool to nudge the wire to an acceptable configuration, allowing for the subsequent successful removal of the"Tertiary Cap." It's this sort of on-orbit experience that makes the remotely controlled RRM operations so valuable—and the International Space Station such an ideal test bed for emerging technologies.

Now we're on to Day 2, where we'll be demonstrating these tasks starting at 1:30 pm EST today:

  1. First, Dextre and the RRM Multifunction Tool will stow the Tertiary Cap (picked up in Day 1) and the Tertiary Cap Adapter (which was attached to the Multifunction Tool back in June 2012),
  2. Next, Dextre will use the RRM Wire Cutter Tool to cut wires on the Safety Cap and then the Actuation Nut (more hardware that would be found on a satellite's fuel valve),
  3. With these tasks done, Dextre will then stow the Wire Cutter Tool and the Multifunction Tool. He's been using these two tools—one in each hand—all day.

January 16, 2013

Robotic Refueling Mission Update: Progress to Date

Even robots have to keep their area nice and tidy, and yesterday, RRM was all about cleaning up what had been brought out. First the RRM Multifunction Tool carefully stowed the Tertiary Cap Adapter with the captive Cap securely nested inside—because any good space custodian would tell you that you can't have any stray objects drifting off on their watch. Like the other three Goddard-designed RRM tools, the Multifunction Tool was designed to be "smart" and efficient in orbit. One tool + four adapters = multiple functions, eliminating the need to send four individuals tools to orbit, as adapters weigh far less than a tools do. That's one way great way to eliminate waste!

As reported on CSA's website, "The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) yesterday evening requested a temporary pause in the operations for the Robotic Refueling Mission. 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. 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. CSA will provide a status shortly to determine when work can safely resume."

RRM is in a safe quiescent configuration during this temporary pause, and will be ready to resume operations when the combined team is good to go.

Wondering what these NASA-developed satellite servicing technologies could do for you? Then you don't want to miss our RRM Google Hangout taking place Jan 17 11:00am—12:00pm EST. Tune in to seasoned experts from the RRM team as they join the Franklin Institute's Derrick Pitts to discuss these new capabilities and take your questions. Tweet #askRRM to submit a query.

As the Goddard RRM teams started filing yesterday into the console and robotics facility, SSPD's deputy project manager Benjamin Reed was on the phone with NASA TV's Josh Byerly to talk about the Robotic Refueling Mission, the RRM team's experience from the five Hubble Servicing Missions, and why satellite servicing matters.


Excerpt from Video

"There are, as available on the web, something like 1000 operational satellites in orbit. Only two of the 1000 are serviceable. And those are the International Space Station and Hubble Space Telescope. The other 998 are not designed for servicing. It's like having an iPhone. A skilled technician can get into an iPhone to replace a battery or a cracked screen if necessary, but not the general public, not without specialized tools. These 998 other satellites in space can be accessed. We are demonstrating on Space Station that the tools, technologies, and techniques are available now for accessing a satellite's refueling system to give it more propellant, but it's not easy. It requires sophisticated tools, it requires careful planning, but that's sort of thing that we do for a living here at NASA."

— SSPD's Ben Reed

January 17, 2013

Robotic Refueling Mission Update: Starting Day 3 of Ops

RRM operations resume again today! From the NASA Office of Communications:

"The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has cleared the International Space Station's robotic arm, Canadarm2, to continue work on the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) following a short delay to verify software settings in the robotic arm's control system. Robotics engineering teams had discovered an intermittent anomaly in the software that controls Canadarm2, which could potentially have caused the system to use the wrong parameters while in motion, a particular concern when the arm must work close to other structures (as is the case with RRM). After detailed analysis, the CSA identified steps that can be taken to ensure Canadarm2's software selects the right parameters, thereby ensuring it is safe to proceed. Canadarm2 and Dextre, the International Space Station's robotic handyman, will resume Day 2 operations of RRM tomorrow. Because Dextre successfully stowed the tertiary cap in the RRM module on Tuesday, the robot's next step will be to cut two sets of wires on the safety cap. The goal of RRM is to demonstrate how robots could service and refuel satellites to extend their useful lifetime."

Around 12:30 pm today, we'll be picking up with two tasks originally slated for Day 2:

  1.   Dextre will use the RRM Wire Cutter Tool to cut wires on the Safety Cap and then the Actuation Nut (more hardware that would be found on a satellite's fuel valve),

  2.   With these tasks done, Dextre will then stow the Wire Cutter Tool and the Multifunction Tool. He's been holding these two tools—one in each hand—the last couple of days.

We'll then begin the planned Day 3 of ops: a series of activities dedicated to getting the RRM Safety Cap Tool ready for next week's action. We'll be:

  3.   Commanding Dextre to grasp and un-stow the RRM Safety Cap Tool from the RRM module, then

  4.   Checking out the Tool, as well as releasing the launch torque and checking out the functionality of the Safety Cap Receptacle.


January 18, 2013

Robotic Refueling Mission Update: Gearing up for Next Week's Ops!

We successfully wrapped up Day 3 of Robotic Refueling Mission operations early this morning, cutting two wires and re-stowing two tools. Now the team will be taking a well-deserved break over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday until we pick up again on Tuesday, January 22nd.

We're excited to announce that we'll be participating in a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" on January 24 at 1:00 ET. Stay tuned next week for more details.

Next on our roster: preparations for the actual robotic refueling demo! An extra day of RRM operations is now planned.

Day 4: January 22 - 23

  • Dextre will remove the RRM Safety Cap Tool and check it out.
  • The team will then prepare the Safety Cap Receptacle for eventual use.
  • We'll then use the Safety Cap Tool to—you've guessed it—remove the safety cap, a protective cap on satellite fuel valves.
  • We'll then stow the Safety Cap Tool back within the RRM module.

Day 5: January 23 - 24

  • One of Dextre's arms will grasp onto a fixture to stabilize itself in preparation for the refueling demo.
  • Dextre will then grasp and un-stow the RRM Nozzle Tool, and the RRM team will check out the Tool to make sure everything is working correctly.
  • Finally, we'll maneuver the tool to the mock fuel valve on the RRM module, which we call the "Plumbed fill/drain valve." We'll then be ready to transfer liquid ethanol fluid and do the refueling demo on Day 6!

Day 6: January 24 - 25

  • First, the Nozzle Tool will thread itself onto the RRM mock fuel valve, called the "Plumbed fill/drain valve" on the RRM module. The moment we've been waiting for will finally be here.
  • Mission operators will send a sequence of commands to RRM, commanding it to transfer liquid ethanol from RRM's fluid transfer system, into the Nozzle Tool and through the attached fuel valve.
  • When the fluid transfer is complete, the Nozzle Tool will disconnect from the valve. It will leave behind a clever "quick disconnect" fitting that would allow for a simpler and more efficient refueling connection in the future.
  • Dextre will then stow the Nozzle Tool and let go of the stabilization fixture.
  • The robotic controllers at JSC will then put Dextre into a position that gets him ready for his next task.
  • The RRM Refueling demonstration will then be officially complete!

January 22, 2013

Robotic Refueling Mission Update: Day 4 Begins

Welcome back after the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday! RRM operations start up again around noon today. Step by step, we'll be:M

  • Removing the RRM Safety Cap Tool and checking it out.
  • Prepare the Safety Cap Receptacle for eventual use.
  • We'll then use the Safety Cap Tool to—you've guessed it—remove the safety cap, a protective cap on satellite fuel valves.
  • We'll then stow the Safety Cap Tool back within the RRM module. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for up-to-the-minute updates on the action. If you haven't had a chance yet, be sure to check out the video from last week's RRM Google Hangout!

RRM was featured in the latest edition of This Week @ NASA! Get an overview of of the Robotic Refueling Mission and see new footage from the Goddard Satellite Servicing Control Center in this news broadcast. "A successful simulated fuel transfer could mark a revolution in spacecraft operation and design." The RRM segment begins at 5:14.

Be sure to join us on Thursday, January 24 from at 1:00 pm for the Reddit "Ask Me Anything"on satellite servicing with SSPD's deputy project manager Benjamin Reed. More details to follow.

January 23, 2013


Robotic Refueling Mission Update: One Day Left Before Refueling!

The RRM team is pumped and excited to begin Day 5 of operations today! But before we dive into the action, we have a NEW video on RRM's progress! Bring yourself up to speed on what RRM has accomplished up to last night.

In orbit at 18,000 miles an hour, day and night change places every 90 minutes. Darkness and light, sleep and wake: it's tough to focus on precise tasks floating outside the International Space Station--but not if you're a robot. NASA's Robotic Refueling Mission puts that proposition to the test, with a first-of-its-kind demonstration of a simulated fuel transfer in space, no human in sight. But first, there's a pile of prep before the operation can commence.

We also have two RRM reports from the field, brought to us from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and Johnson Space Center. RRM Operations Manager Charlie Bacon, who leads the RRM team in the Goddard Satellite Servicing Control Center (GSSCC), brings us this update on yesterday's progress:

"RRM operations have been very successful to date. We've completed all our scheduled objectives and still have plenty of time left during the next two days to get through everything else we need to work through. We've had some issues along the way, but have been able to work through them and continue on. Our team here at Goddard has had great paths of communication open with engineers at Johnson Space Center (JSC) and the Canadian Space Agency, and everyone is excited about what we're accomplishing. Today (Day 4) was particularly suspenseful because of the Safety Cap removal. We modified the removal steps last month, and in the process, ended up with a procedure that was really going to push the RRM Safety Cap Tool to its limits. It was critical that every step was followed exactly as written, and that everyone agreed about the progress of the task. Thanks to the interagency teams' hard work, everything went as planned and we successfully removed the cap. But I would say the excitement of everything we've done so far will culminate with the Refueling demonstration scheduled for Thursday." — Charles Bacon

While Charlie and the RRM team were on console in the GSSCC, RRM roboticist Joe Easley was up late assisting the "ROBO" team at JSC with RRM operations. He sends us this report:

Joe Easley "We had a good day of RRM operations today down at Johnson Space Center in Houston. We worked with the ISS Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator (a.k.a, the Space Station's enormous Dextre robot) operators Robert Pickle and Ian Mills (call sign: ROBO!) on tasks related to the Safety Cap Tool (SCT). After Dextre retrieved the SCT from the tool stowage bay, ROBOs spent some time reconfiguring the robot to access a fixture that can be used to stow caps and adapters picked up by the SCT. Dextre arrived at the worksite and we successfully performed a checkout of that receptacle using the SCT. We moved back to the front face of RRM, where we used the SCT to remove a safety cap on our plumbed refueling valve. After a successful removal, we stowed the the SCT back in the tool stowage bay for the night. It was a long day 12-hour day, but we got everything on the schedule done with a few hours to spare. It's great working with the ROBOs and their team down here at JSC. They really know their stuff and are a fun group of people. It's also pretty great getting to sit with them in FCR-1 (main ISS flight control room) and to see how the ISS, one of the most complex pieces of engineering ever built, runs as smooth as a Swiss watch. Tomorrow we have a short day setting up for refueling, and then Thursday is the big day!" — Joe Easley

We've got a great set of tasks lined up for today, Day 5 of operations: January 23 - 24.

  • First, one of Dextre's arms will grasp onto a fixture to stabilize itself in preparation for the refueling demo.
  • Dextre will then grasp and un-stow the RRM Nozzle Tool, and the RRM team will check out the Tool to make sure everything is working correctly.
  • Finally, we'll maneuver the tool to the mock fuel valve on the RRM module, which we call the "Plumbed fill/drain valve." We'll then be ready to transfer liquid ethanol fluid and do the refueling demo on Day 6!

January 24, 2013

Robotic Refueling Mission Update: Robotic Refueling Is About to Begin!

Wires have been snipped, caps have been undone, and the moment that NASA has been preparing for all of these years is finally here: the RRM refueling demo begins today.

The RRM investigation may one day substantially impact the many satellites that deliver products Americans rely upon daily— such as weather reports, cell phones and television news. By developing robotic capabilities to repair and refuel GEO satellites, NASA hopes to add precious years of functional life to satellites and expand options for operators who face unexpected emergencies, tougher economic demands and aging fleets. NASA also hopes that these new technologies will help boost the commercial satellite-servicing industry that is rapidly gaining momentum.

Yesterday, the team put themselves into position by un-stowing the RRM Nozzle Tool and maneuvering it to the practice fuel valve on the RRM module. Poised and ready, the RRM Nozzle Tool is about to perform a first-of-its-kind robotic fluid transfer— a task that demonstrates that teleoperated robots, with the right set of sophisticated tools, can refuel satellites that were never designed to be serviced.

Today's Robotic Refueling Mission activities kick off in the following order:
  • First, the Nozzle Tool will be threaded onto the RRM practice fuel valve, called the "plumbed fill/drain valve" on the RRM module.
  • Mission operators at Marshall Space Flight Center will then send a precise sequence of commands to RRM, activating it to transfer liquid ethanol from RRM's fluid transfer system, into the Nozzle Tool through the attached fuel valve, and back into the module's reservoir.
  • When the fluid transfer is complete, the Nozzle Tool uses a novel technique to disconnect from the valve. It will leave part of itself behind - a clever "quick disconnect" fitting that would allow for a simpler and more efficient refueling connection in the future.
  • Dextre will then stow the Nozzle Tool and let go of the stabilization fixture.
  • The RRM Refueling demonstration will then be officially complete.

SSCO's deputy project manager Benjamin Reed will be giving a live briefing on RRM during the the ISS Update on NASA TV tomorrow, Friday January 25, 11:00am— 12:00pm EST.

Finally, our SSPD Robotics Facility Manager Ed Rezac, the proud Extravehicular Activity (EVA) Point of Contact for four Hubble Servicing Missions, provides this reflection on the very human element contained within the "Robotic" Refueling Mission. Many members of the RRM team come from the heritage of the Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Missions. Every day, they translate their wealth of experience in human satellite servicing into developing the tools, technologies and techniques to enable the robotic servicing capabilities of the future.

 Ed Rezac"It has been an eventful and exciting week for our Robotic Refueling Team, as milestones are met and new bars are raised for working in space. It occurred to me last night, as the Dextre robot aboard the International Space Stationreadied our Nozzle Tool at the end of another successful day on orbit, that much has been written, texted and tweeted recently about robots and new technologies. Occasionally in that context, concerns have surfaced that our 'manned' space program may be dwindling. But I went to sleep last night knowing that our robotic accomplishments on orbit are only possible because 'man' is forever in the loop.

I am so very proud of the Satellite Servicing Projects Division team and the extended team that includes our partners at the Canadian Space Agency, Johnson Space Center, Marshal Space Flight Center and all the International Space Station support members— to the individual. Every precaution taken, every concern addressed, every anomaly solved, every success realized so far is to be savored by the people responsible. Well done— I can hardly wait to see where they bring us today and tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow!

NASA astronauts wear a blue and yellow patch on the right shoulder of their Extravehicular Mobility Units (EMU), the space suits worn when they venture from the safety of their spacecraft to extend their reach and work in the hostile environment of space. The theme of the patch is 'Extending the Dimensions of Man' and it depicts a suited astronaut in a pose acknowledging Leonardo da Vinci's work 'Vitruvian Man.' What we are doing with robotics today will forever extend mankind's reach and dimension into the cosmos. I think we're gonna need a new patch." — Ed Rezac

January 25, 2013

Robotic Refueling Mission Update: Mission Accomplished!

We are excited to announce that the Robotic Refueling Mission has successfully completed its namesake task: a first-of-its kind robotic refueling. We conducted a fluid transfer in orbit that proves that remotely controlled robots —with the help of sophisticated tools, novel propellant transfer systems, and carefully crafted procedures—can refuel existent satellites that were never designed to be serviced.

RRM represents a new era in space robotics and advanced technologies for satellite maintenance and repair. NASA Goddard's Satellite Servicing Projects Division is assessing the data of this landmark demonstration and will be issuing an official press release and video announcing detailed results.

A huge round of thanks goes to the dedicated RRM teams at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center—both in the Goddard Satellite Servicing Command Center and the Goddard Satellite Servicing Center. We'd also like to thank our international partners the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) who designed and built the Dextre robot, the supporting officers at the International Space Station, the NASA and CSA ROBO operators flying the Dextre robot at Johnson Space Center, and the operators at Marshall Space Flight Center who commanded RRM's Propellant Transfer System to transfer the ethanol fluid.

We have a sneak peak of one of the most exciting events from yesterday's demo: the moment when the Goddard-built RRM Nozzle Tool pulled away from the fuel valve. As the video progresses, you can see the Nozzle Tool withdraw, leaving behind a "quick disconnect" fitting. The fluid you see is ethanol, a carefully-chosen satellite propellant substitute. The small volume of ethanol seen "spraying" behaved just as predicted. Stay tuned for a full video update!

Watch SSPD deputy project manager Benjamin Reed as he talks about last night's success live on NASA TV's ISS update TODAY, January 25, 11:00am—12:00pm EST.

It isn't too late to join the RRM discussion on Reddit! Read up on Ben Reed's answers to your questions and submit one of your own.

The RRM refueling task has been successfully completed, but this isn't the end of the Mission. Continue to visit this page for more results and additional details about upcoming RRM tasks.

February 8, 2013

Refueling Schedule (EST)


  • Day 1: Jan 14 (7:00am) - Jan 15 (3:00 am)
  • Day 2: Jan 15 (1:30 pm) - Jan 16 (8:00 am)
  • Day 3: Jan 17 (1:30 pm) - Jan 18 (8:00 am)
  • Day 4: Jan 22 (12:00 pm) - Jan 23 (6:00 am)
  • Day 5: Jan 23 (11:00 am) - Jan 24 (6:00 am)
  • Day 6: Jan 24 (3:00 pm) - Jan 25 (3:00 am)

New RRM Web Story, Video and Press Release

NASA has released a new web story, video and press release detailing results from the historic RRM Refueling demonstration. See the links below for the latest news on this game-changing event!

In upcoming news, RRM results will be presented at the Satellite 2013 conference in Washington DC. There are also plans to present at additional aerospace and International Space Station events. Stay tuned for more details.

While the robotic refueling task may be complete, it doesn't mean that RRM activities have come to an end. RRM tasks for Spring 2013 include thermal blanket tape slicing as well as fastener and electronic termination cap removals: all firsts of their kinds. Once these have wrapped up, a new round of servicing task boards, tools and activities are slated to continue RRM's investigations through 2015.

  • Web story: NASA's Successful Robotic Refueling Demo Points to a Bright Satellite-Servicing Future

    "'RRM is a harbinger of the next era in satellite fleet operations,' says Benjamin Reed, deputy project manager of SSPD. 'It disrupts the accepted paradigm that a GEO satellite must be decommissioned at end of its propellant reserves. Nearly 50 years of common practice is challenged with the options that RRM proves and foreshadows.'"

  • Video: RRM | Mission to the Future Delivers the Goods

    Fill'er up!
    That's the promise of robotic refueling on orbit: aging satellites can get a new lease on life from a robotic machine making a service call. Or, at least, the dream of such a system got dramatically closer after NASA's robotic mission success.

  • Press Release: Successful Refueling Demonstration Proves Viability of Satellite-Servicing Technologies

    "NASA has demonstrated robotic fluid transfer in space, an objective that will help inform the development of robotic technology to refuel satellites. The first-of-its-kind demonstration was performed during the Robotic Refueling Mission (RRM) aboard the International Space Station.

    'This achievement is a major step forward in servicing satellites,' said Frank Cepollina, associate director of the Satellite Servicing Projects Division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. 'RRM gives NASA and the emerging commercial satellite servicing industry the confidence to robotically refuel, repair and maintain satellites in both near and distant orbits -- well beyond the reach of where humans can go today.'"



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