The 35-year old former Italian Air Force test pilot will be a flight engineer on the station crew. While Albert Einstein and Parmitano are headed to the orbiting laboratory in 2013, a new robotic arm for the orbiting laboratory will likely slip to 2014.
The station’s new European Robotic Arm, or ERA, will launch on a Proton rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome, ESA’s ERA will be attached to Russia’s multipurpose laboratory module.
The robotic arm consists of two end-effectors, two wrists, two limbs and one elbow joint, together with electronics and cameras. Both end-effectors act as either a hand or the base from which it can operate. ERA will be used in the assembly and servicing of the Russian segment of the station, and its infrared cameras will allow it to carry out inspections of the station’s exterior.
The arm will also be able to transport astronauts, like a cherry picker crane, from one external location to another. This saves time and effort during spacewalk activities. ERA is also compatible with the new Russian airlock, so it can transfer small payloads between the station’s interior and the vacuum of space quickly. This will also reduce the crew’s space walk set-up time and allow ERA to work with astronauts outside the station.
Space plane under development
Like ERA, ESA’s space plane prototype, the Intermediate Experimental Vehicle (IXV), was to have been launched in 2013. It will now fly on ESA’s Vega rocket in 2014. The IXV vehicle is designed to test re-entry technologies during a suborbital flight launching from French Guiana and splashing down in the Pacific Ocean using parachutes.
ESA has now approved funds for IXV’s possible follow-on, Innovative Space Vehicle (ISV), under the Program for Reusable In-orbit Demonstrator in Europe.
The ISV would be Europe's civilian equivalent of the U.S. Air Force's unmanned X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle, a robotic miniature space shuttle that has flown on three missions since 2010. The unmanned European space plane would be much smaller than the Air Force vehicle, however.
Giorgio Tumino, IXV program manager told SPACE.com: “We did not get all what we asked, but enough to go ahead and keep the planning.”
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