March 14, 2008 / 12:25 PM / 9 years ago

NASA to try new fix for space station's new robot

(Recasts throughout with new details, quotes)

By Irene Klotz

HOUSTON, March 14 (Reuters) - NASA will try again on Friday to power up a Canadian robotic system delivered to the International Space Station by visiting U.S. space shuttle Endeavour along with the first segment of Japan's new Kibo laboratory.

A design flaw in an electrical circuit has left the $209 million robot, named Dextre, without heaters to protect its systems from the minus 200-degree Fahrenheit temperatures of space.

The robot is designed to add manual dexterity and another 30 feet (9 metres) of reach to the space station's crane to assist with detailed exterior maintenance tasks.

"There was a design problem," said LeRoy Cain, head of NASA's shuttle mission management team. "It was not done the way it should have been done."

Engineers attempted to fix the problem with a software patch, but later discovered a hardware error was to blame. The next step is to have the shuttle crew plug in the robot to an electrical connection on the station's crane instead, Cain said.

The 1.5 tonne Dextre, which has 11-foot-long (3.4-metre) arms and was brought up in nine pieces, can last until Tuesday or Wednesday without heating, he added.

If power to the robot is successfully restored, a spacewalk to resume its assembly will take place as planned on Saturday. If not, NASA would delay the outing, possibly using a spacewalk planned for later in the flight to test a heat shield repair technique.

The Endeavour crew, which reached the station on Wednesday, plans to conduct five spacewalks during their 12-day construction and servicing call to the station.

'MEMORABLE DAY'

The shuttle blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Tuesday and is scheduled to land on March 26.

Also on Friday, the shuttle and space station crews planned to open the hatch to the first segment of Japan's new Kibo complex, which was installed on the outpost earlier in the day at the end of a seven-hour spacewalk by astronauts Garrett Reisman and Richard Linnehan.

Japanese space officials at Mission Control in Houston applauded as they watched a feat more than 20 years and $2.4 billion in the making.

Tetsuro Yokoyama, deputy manger of operations for the Kibo project, said it was a "memorable day for Japan's human space flight program."

"It has been very exciting for us at JAXA to watch today's activities," he told reporters, referring to Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

The cylinder is basically a storage compartment for the main segment of the three-piece Kibo, which is scheduled for delivery on a May space shuttle flight. The final piece will be flown up in early 2009.

Upon completion, Kibo, a Japanese word for "hope," will be about the size of a double-decker bus and the largest lab on the station.

NASA is aiming to complete construction of the space station -- now about 60 percent finished and featuring segments representing all 15 of its partner nations -- by 2010 when the aging space shuttle fleet will be retired. (Additional reporting by Jeff Franks in Houston; Editing by Eric Walsh)




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