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N° 48–2005: ESA signs contract with Dutch Space to prepare the ERA for its launch on Proton and its first operations at the ISS

27 October 2005

On 27 October ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight, Microgravity and Exploration Mr Daniel Sacotte signed a contract for the launch preparations and first operations of the European Robotic Arm (ERA) on the International Space Station (ISS). The contract, worth 20 million Euro, was signed with Dutch Space, the Industrial Prime Contractor leading an industrial consortium of European companies. The contract signing took place at the Erasmus User Centre at ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.

Originally ERA was scheduled for launch on a Space Shuttle, together with the Russian Science and Power Platform, which was intended to become its home base for operations on the station. Last year Russia introduced the Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM) as a new module to be added to the ISS and proposed also the possibility that ERA could be installed, launched and operated on the MLM. Since the MLM is designed for launch on a Russian Proton rocket, ERA will no longer be carried into space on a US Space Shuttle, but aboard Proton. This requires some technical, operational and contractual re-arrangements between the parties involved.

Under the contract now signed the consortium led by Dutch Space will requalify the ERA flight and ground segment for a launch on Proton and will deliver the ERA hardware to Russia. The consortium will also implement ERA training for the Russian cosmonaut instructors and will support the training of the Russian cosmonauts on ERA operations. It will also support ground processing and launch preparations in Russia. This will take place at various locations: at the Khrunichev premises, where the Proton launcher is built; at Energia, which together with Khrunichev builds the Multipurpose Laboratory Module; at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre in Star City; and at the launch site in Baikonur. Under the new contract, in-orbit validation of the robotic arm is the final activity to be performed by the consortium. This involves participation in, and analysis of, the first operation of ERA after launch when the performance of ERA will be validated under real space and operational conditions.

“The European Robotic Arm is a good example of how spaceflight is driving new technologies”, says Daniel Sacotte “Through spaceflight we have been building up expertise in key technologies like robotics, which is not only beneficial for Europe and European industry but also demonstrates the important role Europe is playing in the International Space Station programme by contributing key elements such as the Robotic Arm.”

The European Robotic Arm is over 11 metres in length and weighs 630 kg. ERA is capable of moving payloads up to a total mass of 8000 kg and is able to position itself with an accuracy of 5 mm. It will be launched from Baikonur to the ISS on a Russian Proton rocket in November 2007. For the launch ERA will be mounted on the new Russian element to be incorporated in the International Space Station - the Multipurpose Laboratory Module - which will then become the home base from which ERA operates. With its seven joints and an impressive concentration of tools and electronics, the arm can move hand-over-hand between fixed base points around the Russian ISS segments and will be used for a variety of tasks.

ERA can be used to install, remove and deploy solar arrays and radiators and can, via the new Russian equipment airlock, transfer small payloads from inside to outside the ISS and vice versa. This will reduce the time needed for extravehicular activities to the absolute minimum and save the crew having to perform preparatory tasks like carrying payloads out of or into the ISS. Another important task for ERA will be to transport astronauts from the airlock to the position where they are supposed to perform their work, which again saves time and effort. ERA is equipped with four cameras and lighting units, which provide for thorough inspection of the ISS.

The European Robotic Arm can be operated from inside the ISS. However, an astronaut outside the station can also drive the arm while performing Extravehicular Activity. Once installed on the International Space Station ERA will be operational in the harsh environment of space for at least 10 years.

For further information, please contact:

Dieter Isakeit

Head, Erasmus User Centre and Communication Office

Directorate of Human Spaceflight, Microgravity and Exploration Noordwijk (the Netherlands)

Tel: +31 71 565 5451

Fax: +31 71 565 8008

Franco Bonacina

Head, ESA Media Relations Service

Directorate of External Relations

ESA HQ - Paris

Tel: +33(0) 1.53.69.7155

Fax: +33(0)1.53.69.7690

Philippe Schoonejans

Head of the ERA Project Office (ERA Project Manager)

Directorate of Human Spaceflight, Microgravity and Exploration Noordwijk (the Netherlands)

Tel: +31 71 565 5026

Fax: +31 71 565 4437

For further information:

ESA Media Relations Division
Tel: +33(0)1.53.69.7155
Fax: +33(0)1.53.69.7690



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