LONGUEUIL, Que. -- A Canadian robot named Dextre is rocketing to the International Space Station next month to take some of the risk and workload from the real astronauts.

The two-armed, $200-million robot is tentatively scheduled to be launched March 11 on board space shuttle Endeavour.

Daniel Rey, head of the technical team preparing Dextre, says the robot will reduce the amount of time astronauts must spend outside the space station. The robot could eliminate the need for up to a dozen spacewalks a year.

"He will free up astronauts so they can do more science and more research rather than maintenance,'' said Rey, who has worked on the Canadian Space Agency project for 10 years.

"It's easy to imagine from a half-a-dozen to a dozen sorties will be avoidable now,'' Rey said in an interview.

Dextre, short for Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator, will perform exterior construction and tasks like changing batteries and handling experiments outside the space station.

Dextre also comes equipped with a tool holster which allows the robot to change equipment as needed "like any good handyman.''

But Rey said the 3.7-metre robot can't be compared to R2-D2 or HAL, the computer in the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey.''

"He doesn't have an artificial intelligence. . .he can be remote controlled from the ground or from the space station.''

The astronauts who will operate the robot's rotating joints, torso and five cameras have already been trained at the space agency, just outside Montreal.

Dextre is the third and final component of the mobile servicing system developed by Canada for the space station.

It can either be attached to a mobile base which runs on rails along the exterior of the station or it can be connected to Canadarm2 like a snap-on tool.

Long life for new robot

The robot, which has a 15-year lifespan, will be installed during three of the five spacewalks planned in March.

"We're talking about 15 years for Dextre. . . if nothing fails in the early installation, we can imagine it operating for a very, very long time,'' Rey added.

He said that Dextre can manipulate items "from the size of a phone book to a phone booth.''

Shelley Sindelar, a systems engineer on the project since 2003, said the robot will be working in a very harsh space environment.

"The temperature runs from -150 Celsius to 150 Celsius,'' she told reporters.

"Dextre is equipped with blankets to keep it warm and radiators to keep it cooled down.''
Sindelar noted the robot also has to watch out for micro-meteorites and space dust.

"This is a prime example of why we want to move the astronauts into the space station, and we want to take away that risk from their spacewalks.''

Dextre was built by MacDonald, Detweiler and Associates in Brampton, Ont., which is also responsible for the Canadarm, with support from 30 other Canadian firms.

MDA is being sold to U.S. weapons manufacturer Alliant Tech Systems.

Like the Canadarm on the space shuttle and the Canadarm2 on the space station, the Canada logo will be prominently displayed on the new robot.

Dextre will show Canada's logo in six spots.

Hmmm.... Interesting... let me see if I can find a pic:

ok, it's a bit big:

www.space.gc.ca/asc/eng/iss/mss_spdm.asp (external - login to view)