Developed by Dutch Space, the European Robotic Arm (ERA) will be a crucial piece of equipment on the Russian Segment of the International Space Station. The intelligent space robot, with a total length of 11 metres, looks like a pair of compasses and has the ability to 'walk' around the exterior of the ISS under its own control, hand-over-hand between pre-fixed base-points. Cosmonauts can control the robot from both inside as well as outside the space station. With the aid of ERA, cosmonauts will be relieved from many routine but fatiguing and potentially hazardous tasks outside the space station.
ERA, one of the most comprehensive space projects ever executed in the Netherlands, has been developed for the European Space Agency by the European space industry with Dutch Space as prime contractor. The ERA programme comprises the delivery of the flight model, a spare model, a qualification model and several test models; for example a mock-up for use in a water tank by trainee cosmonauts. Furthermore, Dutch Space delivers the control software and the advanced simulator system for operational planning, definition of procedures and mission evaluation and cosmonaut/astronaut training purposes.
The launch of the robot arm, originally planned for 2002, was postponed due to earlier problems with the American Space Shuttle. The spare model will be launched around May 14, 2010; the flight model is expected to be launched on March 30, 2012.