Astronaut runs the risk of being hit by Micrometeorites or Space Debris
On March 18, 1965, Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov made the world’s first spacewalk, opening a new page in the history of cosmonautics. Less than three months later, on June 3, 1965, American Astronaut Edward White repeated it. Besides. However, although work in outer space has gone from a feat to a routine, it has become no less dangerous and no less simple.
The astronaut runs the risk of being hit by micrometeorites or space debris. Any serious damage to the prosthesis threatens decompression and almost certain death. An astronaut can run away from the ship and get lost in outer space. It is almost impossible to save him in this situation. Long and complex manipulations in multilayer spacesuits require astronauts with the highest qualifications and physical fitness.
So it’s not surprising that NASA was quick to think about how to make life easier for workers in orbit. In the wake of the fashion for robots for everything and everyone, the project arose to equip each spacecraft and station with one or more auxiliary vehicles that would assist the astronaut in the work in outer space and, ideally, replace them completely. A kind of utility drone, in the best traditions of modern science fiction.
In 1971, the Free Flyer project was launched to develop small remotely controlled rockets equipped with maneuvering devices that could save astronauts from many difficult or dangerous missions undertaken in orbit.
Such a drone should be in the form of a box 1.2×0.9×0.8 meters in size and weigh about 180 kg. Each drone is equipped with no less than two complex manipulators with 7 joints. If necessary, the manipulators can be replaced with other equipment.
There were also at least three cameras. main, on a retractable lever at the front and two auxiliaries on the manipulators. For the drone’s movement in space, there were 16 different faces facing the miniature hydrazine engines. Such a drone would have been loaded into the cargo hold of each bus by default and used as needed.
Separately, I would like to say a few words about manipulators. The drone is planned to be equipped with M-12 devices, developed based on the Golden Arm prosthesis, an orthopedic device developed in 1965 by the Rancho Los Amigos, Inc. medical institute.
Then work was done to create a complete prosthesis that completely replaces the hand and is controlled by nerve signals from the nervous system. Unfortunately, they did not give a tangible result at the time. However, the brace itself was extremely popular in the United States due to the high incidence of polio.
Orthez even managed to play one of the main roles in the film.
The operator would control the drone from the shuttle cabin or from the ground, depending on the nature of the job. First of all, the drone was considered a means of launching and installing satellites in synchronous orbit. In this case, the drone worked together with the “space tug”, launched and stabilized the satellite in orbit, carried out, if necessary, installation or repair work, re-docked with the tug and returned to the shuttle.
In this case, it made sense to control the drone from the ground, since the drone was in a stationary synchronous orbit, not the shuttle, which moves in low orbit and where the signal is blocked every hour by the body of a planet. But to work in the immediate vicinity of the shuttle, it was more logical to transfer control to the astronaut operator.
In addition, the drone is given simpler tasks. Inspecting spacecraft for damage, minor repairs, assisting astronauts working in space, moving large structural elements, instruments and other “tenders”. It was also considered a lifesaving tool in case an astronaut, for some reason, exploded in outer space.
In 1972, tests began on an experimental prototype of a drone, in many ways no less exciting than the drone itself. A 145-square-foot drone was mounted on a movable platform on an air cushion, which moved over a plastic floor with minimal drag. The experimental drone was equipped with 12 small jet engines, whose power was enough to move the platform forward and sideways.
This was done in order to create an imitation of inertia, which will inevitably occur during the drone’s maneuvers in space. Platform hydraulics were still responsible for vertical maneuvers. The drone was controlled by miniature joysticks from the operator’s console in another room, and the operator could only navigate with the drone’s built-in television and dashboard cameras. Opposite the drone, a docking station simulator, individual satellite elements or other models are installed.
During a series of tests, the experimental Free Flyer was able to dock with a satellite using a simple rod-shaped probe. Using the remote, he removed and replaced the satellite drive assembly, installed and extended the whip antenna, and changed the battery. He was also able to detect cracked and destroyed solar panel elements.
With the help of a mirror and a television camera on the manipulators, it was possible to examine the internal components of the device. It cannot be said that the tests were perfect – the operator managed to complete all actions on the second or third attempt. However, it has been proven that with proper operator training and skills, the drone can fully perform the tasks assigned to it.
Unfortunately, it was this project that did not wait for practical implementation, although it remains stagnant.
After the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the pace of space exploration has significantly slowed down, and now there is simply no work for autonomous robots. All hope for the future.