So far controllers have used the RRM tools to cut wires, remove caps and pull plugs. The testbed is equipped with four tools, two of them able to handle different types of hardware, and a series of task plates designed to test their ability to perform delicate tasks like removing standard No. 10 fasteners and capturing small parts, lest they become space debris. The mission also has collected images of a variety of satellite fittings and other hardware on the testbed under different lighting conditions to generate a machine-vision database for future servicing applications (photo). Ultimately, the two space agencies hope to build a free-flying satellite servicer using the vision and other data collected with the space station tests.
“We're able to buy down this risk by using the International Space Station,” McGuire says. In addition to increasing ISS crew efficiency, the work could spur a potentially lucrative satellite-servicing industry (AW&ST March 21, 2011, p. 23), easing the pressure to set priorities.