NASA's RapidScat: Some Assembly Required -- in Space
NASA's ISS-RapidScat wind-watching scatterometer, which is scheduled to launch to the International Space Station no earlier than Sept. 19, will be the first science payload to be robotically assembled in space since the space station itself.
Howard Eisen, the ISS-RapidScat project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, said, "Another mission had the idea of a two-piece payload first, but we beat them to the punch." The RapidScat team designed and built both parts of the science payload in an 18-month-long sprint so as to take advantage of an available berthing space on the space station and a free ride on a resupply mission. The other two-piece payload is still a year and a half from launch.
Each piece of the ISS-RapidScat payload is attached to the space station by a standardized interface called a Flight Releasable Attachment Mechanism, or FRAM. JPL's Stacey Boland, an engineer on the ISS-RapidScat team, explained, "The space station is almost like a Lego system, and a FRAM is a particular type of Lego block. We had to build on two separate Lego blocks because each block can only hold a certain amount of cargo."
Eisen noted, "We are not only robotically assembled, we are robotically installed." When the Dragon spacecraft reaches the station, a robotic arm will grapple it and bring it to its docking port. Using a different end effector -- a mechanical hand -- the arm will first extract the nadir adapter from the trunk and install it on an external site on the Columbus module of the space station. The arm will then pluck the RapidScat instrument assembly from the trunk and attach it to the nadir adapter, completing the installation. Each of the two operations will take about six hours.
NASA monitors Earth's vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth's interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.
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