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China is testing out its new Wentian space station module, including putting a new robot arm through its paces.
The new module features a range of science experiment cabinets, extra astronaut sleeping quarters and backup systems for the space station, but also carries with it a small robotic arm, measuring about 19.6 feet (six meters).
As part of its recent in-orbit tests, the arm performed various tasks such as disengaging from its base and crawling on the space station’s surface.
While crawling, the arm was docked and undocked from four adaptors on the space station’s surface to ensure they were working. The arm also examined the space station’s solar arrays and external mounting points.
The smaller arm is reportedly more flexible than the larger one and can perform operations more precisely. Its position accuracy is five times higher than the larger one, and the altitude accuracy is twice as high.
The smaller arm can operate separately or connect with the larger arm to cover a broader range of extravehicular activities. Also, the smaller arm can crawl and move independently on the space station’s surface, helping astronauts in spacewalks’ assembly, construction, maintenance, and repair.
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation developed the larger arm. Researchers created the smaller arm at the Harbin Institute of Technology and the Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics, and Physics.
A video released by China’s human spaceflight agency, CMSA, shows the arm disengaging from its base, crawling along the surface of the space station and docking with one of the adapters outside Tiangong, demonstrating its capabilities and functional status.
The footage includes stunning views of oceans and clouds far below on Earth, with lighting conditions changing as the space station orbits the planet.
Wentian’s robotic arm will be used for supporting the extravehicular activities conducted by astronauts and maintaining and repairing the exterior of the space station.
The arm can operate independently or work together with an existing large, 33-foot-long (10 m) robotic arm on the Tianhe core module.