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Ranger Telerobotic Shuttle Experiment (RTSX)

The Ranger Telerobotic Shuttle Experiment (RTSX) evolved from the Ranger Telerobotic Flight Experiment in October 1996. RTSX intended to demonstrate telerobotic servicing on International Space Station Orbit Replaceable Units (ORUs) and EVA equipment in the Space Shuttle cargo bay. Ranger TSX was designed as a four manipulator telerobot with one permanently attached to a Spacelab pallet. The manipulators perform dexterous manipulation, body repositioning, and stereo video viewing. Ranger TSX was an Integrated Product Development effort with participation from other NASA centers, universities, and industry. The NASA Telerobotics Technology Program is the preeminent space telerobotics program in the world. Ranger would have been the most advanced space robot in (or above) the world.

The Ranger TSX mission was planned as 48 hours of telerobotic operations conducted in twelve, four-hour blocks during a single Space Shuttle mission. Ranger would launch on the Space Shuttle, and remain attached to a Spacelab pallet carrier in the cargo bay. Mounted on the sides of the Spacelab pallet are the task elements and ORU boxes which comprised the task suite of the Ranger experiment. Links with ground based control stations were planned via the Orbiter communications system and SpaceNet. Once on-orbit, Ranger would first demonstrate simple robotic task operations, then move to more realistic and difficult robotic tasks planned for the International Space Station. When the basic mission objectives were complete, Ranger would attempt human EVA spacecraft servicing and work site preparation to explore the limitations of telerobots.

A companion vehicle, Ranger NBV II, designed for the neutral buoyancy environment is still under development. Its uses include: arm and vehicle design verification, mission operations scenario verification and test, and astronaut training. RNBV II has the same physical configuration as the planned RTSX with identical manipulators. It can establish a neutral buoyancy simulation data set for correlation to future on orbit experiments.

In June 2002, the Ranger TSX program was scaled back to conserve resources while trying to find future space missions where Ranger technolgy might participate. These include possible Ranger manipulator on Hubble Space Telescope Servicing Mission 4 scheduled for September 2004, and the reimergence of commercial interest in a RTFX-type configuration.

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