The development of space arm technologies at the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics – German Aerospace Center (DLR) has a strong heritage, reaching back to the mid-nineties, when the institute developed a new generation of robots towards more dexterous and lightweight robots in space, driven by the D2 ROTEX mission insights. The DLR robots offered excellent power-to-weight ratio and torque- and impedance- control features even in the early days, these robots successively grew towards a product – the renowned KUKA LWR, which started the Collaborative robotics field – and also served as the basis for all our space robot developments.

The technology of force/torque sensors integrated in each joint of the robotic arm enables dexterous manipulation in space, allowing the robot to complete complex assembly tasks that cannot be performed by noncompliant robots due to large uncertainties in object positions and the large difference between target and arm velocities. These uncertainties would lead to excessive loads or even damage on both the robotic arm and the satellites. However, the compliant control technology permits the execution of such tasks that were previously deemed impossible. DLR developments in robotic manipulation have also been selected for technology transfer to companies or startups, including the new DLR spin-off Kinetik Space.

In 2022, Kinetik Space won the DLR Micro Launcher Payload competition to send a robotic payload in space. The mission, called SpaceDream, is co-developed with the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics, and aims for validating in orbit the modular robotic joints. These joints are used in the mission to create a full robotic arm equipped with a robotic standard interface as a tool exchanger at the tip. The mission will demonstrate the autonomous execution of different robotic tasks, including a rendezvous and docking operation in micro gravity. The unique technology of torque-based control allows the robotic arm to perform these tasks with high reliability and robustness, thus setting a new milestone for European on Orbit Services.

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  • Organization
    German Aerospace Center (DLR)
  • Profession
    Robotics for on orbit services
  • SDGs

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