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Cosmonauts on spacewalk begin configuring new European robotic arm outside space station

Expedition 67 flight engineers Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev work outside of the Nauka module to begin configuring the new European Robotic Arm (ERA) during a spacewalk at the International Space Station on Monday, April 18, 2022.
Expedition 67 flight engineers Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev work outside of the Nauka module to begin configuring the new European Robotic Arm (ERA) during a spacewalk at the International Space Station on Monday, April 18, 2022. (Image credit: NASA TV)

Two cosmonauts began the work needed to add a European-built robotic arm to the outside of the International Space Station on Monday (April 18), completing the first in as many as seven spacewalks planned to activate the new remote manipulator.

Expedition 67 flight engineers Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev, both of Russia's federal space corporation Roscosmos, exited the station's Poisk module on the space-facing side of the station's Russian segment at 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), beginning the 6 hour, 37-minute extravehicular activity (EVA). 

The two spacewalkers then made their way to the side of the Nauka multi-purpose laboratory module, where the new arm has been mounted since its launch with the module in July 2021.

International Space Station: Facts, history and tracking

The European Robotic Arm (ERA) is seen outside of the International Space Station, mounted as it was for its launch on the side of the Nauka multi-purpose laboratory module. A series of spacewalks is planned to configure the arm for use.

The European Robotic Arm (ERA) is seen outside of the International Space Station, mounted as it was for its launch on the side of the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module. A series of spacewalks is planned to configure the arm for use.  (Image credit: NASA TV)

Once configured, the European Space Agency's (ESA) European Robotic Arm (ERA) will be the first such device able to service the exterior of the Russian segment on the International Space Station. The Canadarm2 and Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System (JEMRMS) on the station's U.S. Operating Segment (USOS) cannot extend out far enough to reach many of the needed areas on the Russian segment. 

Like the Canadarm2, the ERA was designed with the ability to move like an inchworm, positioning hand-over-hand between fixed base points. The 37-foot-long (11.3 meters) robotic arm will be able to be driven by crew members from both inside and outside the space station.

To enable the latter, the first task for Artemyev and Matveev on Monday was to connect a control panel for the robotic arm on the exterior of the Nauka module. A subsequent diagnostics test confirmed that the EVA Man Machine Interface (EMMI) was receiving power and was in good order. 

The two spacewalkers then worked on removing protective covers from payload interfaces and base points, which the arm will use to affix itself to the outside of the space station in the future. Artemyev and Matveev also removed a cover from the elbow of the ERA and installed three handrails to ease future work on and around the arm.

The cosmonauts completed their tasks by installing a portable workstation adapter near the arm, which will be used to house payloads before they are moved by the arm to various points outside of the station. Artemyev and Matveev reentered the Poisk module at 5:37 p.m. EDT (2137 GMT), bringing their spacewalk to an end.

Russian cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev work outside of the Nauka multi-purpose laboratory module to begin configuring the new European Robotic Arm (ERA) for use during a spacewalk at the International Space Station on Monday, April 18, 2022.

Russian cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev work outside of the Nauka multi-purpose laboratory module to begin configuring the new European Robotic Arm (ERA) for use during a spacewalk at the International Space Station on Monday, April 18, 2022. (Image credit: NASA TV)

Monday's EVA was the fourth in Artemyev's career, and the first for Matveev. Artemyev now has logged a total of 26 hours and 57 minutes working in the vacuum in space.

The spacewalk was the fourth outside of the International Space Station in 2022, the first during Expedition 67 and the 249th for assembly, maintenance and upgrades since 1998. 

Artemyev and Matveev are scheduled to conduct another spacewalk together on Thursday, April 28, when they will continue preparing the European Robotic Arm for use.

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Robert Z. Pearlman
collectSPACE.com Editor, Space.com Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.