Meet Dextre, the Most Sophisticated Space Robot Ever
published during a waning gibbous moon.
09/23/2016

Dextre

This computer-generated image shows Dextre (right) on the end of Canadarm2, holding an advanced vision system. The Canadian Space Agency’s robotic helper will use it to inspect and protect the International Space Station’s external surfaces. Dextre’s new vision system will be launched to the International Space Station in 2020. Credit: Canadian Space Agency, NEPTEC

Astronauts who post those amazing Instagram pictures also work in a danger vacuum, because as they complete incredibly deft tasks, they have to be ready for cosmic hazards like debris at the drop of a helmet. That’s where Canada’s handyman Dextre comes in, a complex robot designed to take over some of astronauts’ riskiest chores.

Since completing his first official job in 2011, Dextre has been freeing up crews’ time so that they can focus on more important things than routine maintenance — like science! Here’s a little more about the robot’s motley of features.

Dextre’s hands can be pushy.

The name Dextre, in case you were wondering, comes from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) robot’s dexterity. Like its heavy-lifting predecessor, Canadarm2, Dextre helps external upkeep the International Space Station (ISS), which endures cosmic chaos like radiation and meteorites. The ISS was designed to be easily repaired, but much of that work is up to astronauts to painstakingly complete. Dextre’s hands are so nimble, though, that they can adjust how hard they push or pull something with millimeter accuracy. That motion is second nature to us humans but a refined technological feat critical for ISS fixes — and one that’s astronaut-free. Each hand has retractable motorized socket wrenches, a camera and lights, and a retractable connector to plug into other equipment.

Dextre

Credit: Canadian Space Agency

He’s septuple-jointed. (Seven joints!)

Dextre would be a hit in elementary school, if he ever went to school instead of just waking up in space and knowing things. The joints can move up and down and side to side, but they can also rotate. Each spindly arm is almost as long as Dextre at about 10 feet (3.35 meters), and the limbs can handle things whose size falls between a phone book and a phone booth, according to the space agency. Dextre can also swivel at the hip, which is convenient for switching tools or setting things down while he hitches a ride at the end of Canadarm2.

And will get new eyes in 2020.

Eyes that he can grip, to be exact. The CSA plans on giving Dextre a shiny new video system that’s hand-held so that Dextre can really peer at the ISS’s exterior for signs of wear and tear. Dextre is always evolving, too: He was originally only able to be controlled by ISS astronauts, but the CSA revised the robot’s software with NASA, allowing mission control centers in Houston and Saint-Hubert to operate him. He’s also trying his steady hand with other innovative tests, like servicing satellites — all while maintaining his diligent sophistication.