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European robotic arm ERA at the ISS begins work | urania

European robotic arm ERA at the ISS begins work |  urania

After nearly a year of efforts, it was finally possible to activate the European robotic arm ERA, placed on the Russian MLM-U Science module on the International Space Station. In recent months, 3 spacewalks have been conducted to prepare this arm for operation.

The last space tour discussed on the Russian portal was this Made in January 2022. By Anthony Zacapleiro and Peter Dubrow. Its main goal was to complete the integration of the Prichal Communication Module (connected to the International Space Station last November) with the rest of the Russian part of the station.

Thanks to more than 7 hours of work, it was possible to prepare a new unit for the first entrants from spacecraft. Already in March, the manned Soyuz MS-21 capsule docked at the port in Priczal … After the work on Priczal, the astronauts can proceed to activate the ERA robotic arm in the science unit. Initially, these activities were planned for the fall of 2021.

Problems with the ERA . robotic arm

ERA is a European manipulator sent to the International Space Station along with the Russian MLM-U Science module. The ERA arm can “walk” the science unit and will allow you to perform many tasks at the station automatically or semi-automatically, including: installation of new station elements, repairs and inspections of the condition of the station, carrying large loads in Russian part of the station, assistance in conducting experiments Scientific and walking assistance in spaceships.

ERA Robotic Arm – Drawing overview with divided elements. Source: ESA.

Initially, it was planned to activate the robotic arm in the fall of 2021. However, the power transmission failed when launched. On September 23, 2021, the European Space Agency reported that activation activities should be postponed until January 2022 due to data transfer issues between the new MLM-U Nauka module and the Zwiezda module.

While engineers on the ground devised contingency plans to restore proper communication, in-orbit preparations for use of the science unit continued. By the end of 2021, it was possible to install and test the controller that controls the ERA arm inside the unit. The links between Science and the Zwiezda module on spacewalks have also been completed.

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Finally, in February 2022, it was possible to organize an alternative method of arm control using the science unit subsystems. But the delays made it necessary to postpone the planned rallies to activate the arm to the 67th campaign, which was to begin at the end of March 2022. To all this was added Russian aggression against Ukraine. The severance of cooperation with Russia in the international arena raised questions about joint work with Europe to activate the arm.

Soyuz MS-19, departing March 30, 2022 with members of Expedition 66. Source: NASA.

Eventually, however, work continued on its release. Russia has no interest in sabotaging these activities, as it is up to the ERA division to complete the expansion of the MLM-U Science unit.


In April, a series of hiking trails began, continuing work on the operationalization of the first large Russian research unit of the ISS MLM-U Nauka, which also flew to the complex in 2021. On April 18, 2022, Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev left the International Space Station. It was to be the first of three spacewalks dedicated to activating the European ERA robotic arm.

Cosmonauts Denis Matveev (left) and Oleg Artemyev during a VKD-52 spacewalk on either side of the MLM-U Science module. Source: NASA.

The main task of walking was to prepare the robotic arm for the first movements. To do this, it was necessary to remove several thermal and protective covers, install various components on and around the arm, and install an external spare control unit for remote control of the arm. The astronauts began their walk by exiting the Poisk unit. All preparatory work related to the ERA arm has been successfully completed. The walk ended after 6 hours and 37 minutes.

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previously On April 29, the same pioneers: Artemigio and Matveyev wore walking suitsTo complete further preparations for the use of the ERA robotic arm. This time, one of the tasks was to remove the thermal blankets along the entire length of the arm that protect the arm during the rocket’s flight and so far into space. The astronauts also had to remove the locks securing the arm to the unit, as well as install handles and seat belts that will come in handy when the arm is used in spacewalks in the future.

Finally, the first lever operations and movements were planned to move the lever from the transfer position to the first working configurations. The first successful movements were made while releasing the various locks on the arm. After making the first movements, it was possible to remove the insulation from previously inaccessible places.

The arm was successfully moved first to the first barrier and then to the second barrier. In both, it was possible to dock its tip in special niches. But the third planned movement was not completed during this march – the assembly of the second party at the third barrier. In addition, while working on the arm, one of the astronauts untangled the cable with the Kurs antenna on the Priczal unit, which made it impossible to fully extend the antenna used for docking. The march lasted 7 hours and 43 minutes.

In May, engineers wanted to complete the arm’s remote docking to the third point. Despite many attempts, it failed. The ERA arm had to remain in the so-called flamingo position with one limb still in the air. It was a safe orientation, but required additional analysis during orbital station maneuvers so as not to destroy it. finally Only in June, after weeks of analyzes, was it possible to dock the terminal at the destination port. After this problem was resolved, it was possible to proceed to the third revitalization walk.

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ERA robotic arm trying to dock the second end into the BLT-3 port. In the end, it was only possible to do this on June 22, 2022. Source: NASA.


The third spaceflight dedicated to activating the robotic arm was carried out by cosmonauts: Russian Oleg Arteggio and Italian Samantha Cristoforetti. The couple left the Poisk unit on July 21, 2022. Before starting work on the arm, they launched a group of 10 nanosatellites.

Subsequently, the entire Space March was devoted to work on the ERA arm. The astronauts first replaced one of the functional adapters at the end of the arm. Then they assembled the EMMI controller to control the arm from the outside. The console was supposed to be moved to a different and already targeted location – however, this task was postponed to the next exit due to delays.

Then the protective cover was replaced by one of the engineering cameras with the robotic arm. Other tasks were waiting for the astronauts, such as moving Striela’s robotic arm into the Poisk module. However, nothing else can be done due to the fact that the time allowed has been exhausted. The walk ended after 7 hours and 6 minutes.

more information:

Based on: Roskosmos / NSF / RussianSpaceWeb / NASA / ESA

Edited by: Rafał Grabiański

In the title photo: The Soyuz MS-21 ship docked in the Priczal module on the International Space Station. Central Argentina in the background. Source: NASA.

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