Dexterous Walking Robot Design Could Transform Construction Missions in Space

Scientists have engineered an advanced walking robot that could transform huge construction ventures in space. They tested the viability of the robot to carry out the in-space setting up of a 25-m Large Aperture Space Telescope (LAST).

robot, aerospace robotics, walking robot, space missions

Image Credit: Vadim Sadovski/

They report their conclusions in Frontiers in Robotics and AI. A scaled-down model of the robot also exhibited potential for large construction ventures on Earth.

More than anywhere else, maintenance and servicing of large constructions are necessary for space, where the environment is extreme and human technology has a limited lifecycle.

Robotics, extravehicular activities (tasks performed by an astronaut outside a spacecraft), and autonomous system solutions have benefited servicing and maintenance ventures and have assisted the space community to perform revolutionary research on numerous space expeditions.

Developments in robotics and autonomous platforms enable a host of in-space services, which include, but are not limited to, assembly, manufacturing, maintenance, earth observation, astronomy, and debris removal.

With the innumerable hazards involved, depending only on human builders is insufficient, and existing technologies are becoming obsolete.

We need to introduce sustainable, futuristic technology to support the current and growing orbital ecosystem. As the scale of space missions grows, there is a need for more extensive infrastructures in orbit. Assembly missions in space would hold one of the key responsibilities in meeting the increasing demand.

Manu Nair, Corresponding Author and PhD Candidate, University of Lincoln

In their article, Nair and his contemporaries illustrated a state-of-the-art, dexterous walking robotic platform that can be employed for in-orbit assembly space ventures. As a use case, the team tried out the robot for assembling the 25-m LAST.

Assembling Telescopes in Orbit

Ever since the introduction of the Hubble Space Telescope and its successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, the space community has been unceasingly moving toward installing newer and bigger telescopes with larger apertures (the diameter of the light collecting area).

Putting together such telescopes, such as the 25-m LAST, on Earth is not feasible with the currently available launch vehicles due to their inadequate size. That is why larger telescopes are preferably put together in space (or orbit).

“The prospect of in-orbit commissioning of a LAST has fueled scientific and commercial interests in deep-space astronomy and Earth observation,” said Nair.

The right tools are mandatory to put together a telescope of that size in space.

Although conventional space-walking robotic candidates are dexterous, they are constrained in maneuverability. Therefore, it is significant for future in-orbit walking robot designs to incorporate mobility features to offer access to a much larger workspace without compromising the dexterity.

Manu Nair, Corresponding Author and PhD Candidate, University of Lincoln

E-Walker Robot

The scientists suggested a seven degrees-of-freedom completely dexterous end-over-end walking robot (a limbed robotic platform that can move along a surface to various locations to carry out operations with seven degrees of motion capabilities), or, simply put, an E-Walker.

They carried out a detailed design engineering mission to test the robot's potential to competently put together a 25-m LAST in orbit. The robot was likened to the current Canadarm2 and the European Robotic Arm on the International Space Station.

A scaled-down model for Earth-analog testing was created, and another design engineering mission was accomplished.

Our analysis shows that the proposed innovative E-Walker design proves to be versatile and an ideal candidate for future in-orbit missions. The E-Walker would be able to extend the life cycle of a mission by carrying out routine maintenance and servicing missions post assembly, in space.

Manu Nair, Corresponding Author and PhD Candidate, University of Lincoln

“The analysis of the scaled-down prototype identifies it to also be an ideal candidate for servicing, maintenance, and assembly operations on Earth, such as carrying out regular maintenance checks on wind turbines,” Nair added.

However, there is more to be explored. The study was restricted to the design engineering investigation of a full-sized and prototype model of the E-Walker.

The E-Walker prototyping work is now in progress at the University of Lincoln; therefore, the experimental verification and validation will be published separately.

Manu Nair, Corresponding Author and PhD Candidate, University of Lincoln

Journal Reference:

Nair, M. H., et al. (2022) Design engineering a walking robotic manipulator for in-space assembly missions. Frontiers in Robotics and AI.

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