Space Station 2020

Robot Arm Module (Upper)


Robot Arm
Provides Storage Space for Water and Supplies

Our space station has two robot arms on the outside. These are used for several things, including:

  • Repair and maintenance
  • Handling experiments
  • Manoeuvring small spacecraft
  • Launching small objects into space
  • Catching small spacecraft and docking them
  • Adding modules to the space station

Small robot arms were used aboard some of the early planetary explorers, such as Viking, which explored Mars. Large robot arms, however, were pioneered in Canada, in joint collaboration with NASA for use aboard the Space Shuttle Orbiter. The Shuttle's robot arm has proven to be an invaluable tool for deploying satellites from the cargo bay, grabbing objects during rendezvous and as a tether for working astronauts on EVA. Indeed the Shuttle would not be much use without it!

Robot arms are now being used in numerous space applications - aboard space stations and on robot rovers, for instance.

In this fish-eye image above, looking into the Shuttle Orbiters' cargo bay the ISS is under assembly using the shuttle's robot arm, the American Unity Module is joined to the Russian Zarya Module already in orbit.

The first ISS Unity module is carefully manoeuvred from the Shuttle's cargo bay with the robot arm: December 1998, on Mission STS-88.

© Images: NASA

A Stationery Arm

Make a Simple Robot-Type Extension Gripper from Stationery

The arm you will make will allow you to extend your reach and pick up small objects.


  • cardboard tube from a wrapping paper roll
  • 2 elastic bands,
  • string - about 1.5 m (5 feet)
  • Piece of Card - from the back of an A4 writing pad
  • 2 Paper Clips
  • Binding Grip or 2 Split Paper Studs


  • Hole Punch
  • Scissors

1) Cut the card as shown. First cut the base rectangle, then cut the larger piece in half length-wise. To make identical grippers put the pieces together and cut the shape shown. Now punch the holes shown using the hole-punch. Cut a slot in each side, at the top of the tube.

2) Put the base piece in the slot.

3) Assemble the components: Elastic bands, paper clips and binding grip to the holes, as shown.

4) Add the grippers to the binding clip, and tie each end of the string to the remaining holes.

5) Cut the holding strip of the binding clip to make washers. Add these on the ends of the binding clip and bend down these ends. Put the string down the tube, and the arm is ready to use.

6) The gripper is now ready it works by pulling the string. The elastic bands re-open the grippers. You can pick up all sorts of light objects such as this plastic bottle.

Further Work

You can cover the arm in gold foil to protect it from the sun light!

You might like to devise ways of improving the design with new grippers, for instance.

Is it possible to make an arm with an elbow, using two tubes?

Go to Space Station 2020 Specification

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