Look at the "hotel for robots" on the ISS: it receives its inhabitants for the first time

On December 5, 2019, a protective vault for robotic instruments called Robotic Tool Stowage (RiTS) was in

the number of items launched at the station withinSpaceX's 19th commercial delivery service mission for NASA. As part of the spacewalk on July 21, NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Chris Cassidy set up a "robot hotel" where the instruments are stored in a mobile base station (MBS). The MBS is a mobile platform that provides power to external robots. This location allows the RiTS storage facility to bypass the station along with a robot that will use the tools it stores.

RiTS provides thermal and physical protectiontools stored outside the station, not only freeing up space on board, but also allowing the Canadian Space Agency's Dextre robot to access them faster, said Mark Neumann, RiTS equipment manager.

RELL Engineering Development Unit (left), pictured next to RiTS. Credit: NASA

The first step in the RiTS installation process includedpreparation of the block inside the space station. The astronauts unpacked the RiTS passengers from the vault - two blocks of an instrument called the Robotic External Leak Locator (RELL) - and attached them to the RiTS's aluminum body.

Astronauts Robert Behnken, Doug Hurley and Chris Cassidy prepare the RiTS for installation. Credit: NASA

RELL is a great example of how robots withthe right tools can make life easier for astronauts. Dextre can use RELL to detect ammonia leaks, eliminating the need for astronauts to perform the same task during a spacewalk.

The ability to effectively detect and repair ammonia leaks is important because it is used to operate the plant's cooling system.

View of the ISS solar panels and the Dextre robot, with a patch of bluish Earth in the background. Credit: NASA

RiTS installation makes the leak containment processmuch more orderly. Prior to RiTS, RELL instruments were stored inside the station, and RELL deployments depended on the presence of an airlock and included waiting an additional 12 hours to allow the RELL gas analyzer to clear itself of internal gases. With RiTS, the only variable is Dextre availability, making it faster to find leaks.

After he was prepared at the station,The RiTS - loaded with two RELL squads - was sent out with the space astronauts who attached it to the MBS. During the spacewalk, this was the first task to modernize the systems of the International Space Station. The installation required the astronauts to mechanically plug the RiTS into an existing outlet at the workplace, then plug two electrical cables into unused power outlets on the MBS. Plugging in to the mains was critical to turning on the heaters in the RiTS that keep the RELL tools from getting too cold.

Exterior view of the ISS showing the RiTS installation site. RiTS are installed on the space station. Credit: NASA TV

While the station will use RiTS, human-robot collaboration like this could potentially be applied to other endeavors involving humans in space.

RiTS was developed by NASA's Projects Divisionresearch and space services at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in partnership with NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

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