1971-2 – Apollo-Soyuz Shuttle Manipulator – Caldwell Johnson (American)

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Apollo-Soyuz Shuttle Manipulator Demo (1971-1972) -   By David S. F. Portree  ,    05.14.2012

During the 1983 STS-7 mission, the crew of  Shuttle Challenger used the Remote Manipulator System arm to deploy and retrieve the SPAS satellite, which captured this iconic image. The arm, bent to form the numeral “7,” is visible near the front of Challenger’s payload bay. Image: NASA.

Caldwell Johnson, co-holder with Maxime Faget of the Mercury capsule patent, was chief of the Spacecraft Design Division at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) in Houston when he proposed that astronauts test prototype Space Shuttle manipulators during Apollo Command and Service Module (CSM) missions in Earth orbit. In a February 1971 memorandum to Faget, MSC’s director of Engineering and Development, Johnson described the manipulator test mission as a worthwhile alternative to the Earth survey, space rescue, and joint US/Soviet CSM missions then under study.

At the time, the Apollo 18, 19, and 20 lunar missions had been cancelled and the second Skylab space station (Skylab B) appeared increasingly unlikely to reach orbit. NASA managers foresaw that the mission cancellations would leave them with a stock of surplus Apollo spacecraft and Saturn rockets after the last mission to Skylab A. They sought low-cost Earth-orbital missions that would put the surplus hardware to good use and fill the expected multi-year gap in U.S. piloted missions between Skylab and the first Space Shuttle launch.

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Twin human-like robot arms deploy from the Apollo CSM SIM Bay to grip the derelict Skylab space workshop. Image: NASA/Caldwell Johnson.

Johnson envisioned Shuttle manipulators capable of bending and gripping much as do human arms and hands, thus enabling them to hold onto virtually anything. He suggested that a pair of prototype arms be mounted in a CSM Scientific Instrument Module (SIM) Bay, and that the CSM “pretend to be a Shuttle” in operations with the derelict Skylab space station. The CSM’s three-man crew could, he told Faget, use the manipulators to grip and move Skylab. They might also use them to demonstrate a space rescue, capture an “errant satellite,” or remove film from SIM Bay cameras and pass it to the astronauts through a special airlock installed in place of the docking unit in the CSM’s nose.

Faget enthusiastically received Johnson’s proposal (he penned “Yes! This is great” on his copy of the February 1971 memo). The proposal generated less enthusiasm elsewhere, however.

Undaunted, Johnson proposed in May 1972 that Shuttle manipulator hardware replace Earth resources instruments that had been dropped for lack of funds from the planned U.S.-Soviet Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) mission. He asked Faget for permission to perform “a brief technical and programmatic feasibility study” of the concept. Faget gave Johnson leave to prepare a presentation for Aaron Cohen, manager of the newly created Space Shuttle Program Office at MSC.

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Twin robot arms capture a satellite. Image: NASA/Caldwell Johnson.

In his June 1972 presentation to Cohen, Johnson declared that “[c]argo handling by manipulators is a key element of the Shuttle concept.” He noted that CSM-111, the spacecraft tagged for the ASTP mission, would have no SIM Bay in its drum-shaped Service Module (SM), and suggested that a single 28-foot-long Shuttle manipulator could be mounted near the Service Propulsion System (SPS) main engine in place of the lunar Apollo high-gain antenna. During ascent to orbit, the manipulator would ride folded beneath the CSM near the ASTP Docking Module (DM) within the streamlined Spacecraft Launch Adapter.

During SPS burns, the astronauts would stabilize the manipulator so that acceleration would not damage it by commanding it to grip a handle installed on the SM near the base of the CSM’s conical Command Module (CM). Johnson had by this time apparently dropped the concept of an all-purpose human hand-like “end effector” for the manipulator; he informed Cohen that the end effector design was “undetermined.”

The Shuttle manipulator demonstration would take place after CSM-111 had undocked from the Soviet Soyuz spacecraft and moved away to perform independent maneuvers and experiments. The astronauts in the CSM would first use a TV camera mounted on the arm’s wrist to inspect the CSM and DM, then would use the end effector to manipulate “some device” on the DM. They would then command the end effector to grip a handle on the DM, undock the DM from the CSM, and use the manipulator to redock the DM to the CSM. Finally, they would undock the DM and repeatedly capture it with the manipulator.

rmsdemo2 x640 1971 2   Apollo Soyuz Shuttle Manipulator   Caldwell Johnson  (American)

A single manipulator arm grips the Docking Module used to link the Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft in Earth orbit. Image: NASA/Caldwell Johnson.

Johnson estimated that new hardware for the Shuttle manipulator demonstration would add 168 pounds to the CM and 553 pounds to the SM. He expected that concept studies and pre-design would be completed in January 1973. Detail design would commence in October 1972 and be completed by July 1, 1973, at which time CSM-111 would undergo modification for the manipulator demonstration.

Johnson envisioned that MSC would build two manipulators in house. The first, for testing and training, would be completed in January 1974. The flight unit would be completed in May 1974, tested and checked out by August 1974, and launched into orbit attached to CSM-111 in July 1975. Johnson optimistically placed the cost of the manipulator arm demonstration at just $25 million.

CSM-111, the last Apollo spacecraft to fly, reached Earth orbit on schedule on July 15, 1975. By then, Caldwell Johnson had retired from NASA. CSM-111 carried no manipulator arm; the tests Johnson had proposed had been judged to be unnecessary. That same month, the U.S. space agency, short on funds, invited Canada to build the Shuttle manipulator arm. The Remote Manipulator System – also called the Canadarm – first reached orbit on board the Space Shuttle Columbia during STS-2, the second flight of the Shuttle program, on November 12, 1981.


Memorandum with attachment, EW/Chief, Spacecraft Design Division, to EA/Director of Engineering and Development, Flight Demonstration of Shuttle docking and cargo handling techniques and equipment using CSM/Saturn 1-B, NASA Manned Spacecraft Center, February 1, 1971.

Memorandum with attachment, EW/Chief, Spacecraft Design Division, to PA/Special Assistant to the Manager, Demonstration of Shuttle manipulators aboard CSM/Soyuz rendezvous and docking mission, NASA Manned Spacecraft Center, May 25, 1972.

Memorandum with attachment, EW/Chief, Spacecraft Design Division, to LA/Manager, Space Shuttle Program Office, Proposal to Demonstrate Shuttle-type Manipulator During Apollo/Soyuz Test Project, NASA Manned Spacecraft Center, June 28, 1972.

Source: www.wired.com, May, 2012.

See other early Space Teleoperators here.

See other early Lunar and Space Robots here.

1968 – Android Space Manipulator (Concept) – General Electric (American)

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Android Space Manipulator

ARMS x640 1968   Android Space Manipulator (Concept)   General Electric (American)

Robots May Tend Ailing Satellites -One of the frustrations of scientists is "burned out" satellites, those which, because of a malfunction or a worn-out part, inertly orbit the earth, doing no worldly good. "Such a satellite becomes a million dollar bit of space debris for lack of a two-dollar part. It would be impractical if not impossible in most cases to send an astronaut to do the job and in the few cases, where practical, the expense would be prohibitive. The answer would seem to be a highly sophisticated robot space vehicle which could be manipulated by ground control. A National Aeronautics Space Administration contract to make design studies of such a "space repairman" has been awarded to the General Electric Space Systems Valley Forge, Pa. In its ARMS (Application of Remote Manipulators in Space) project, GE scientists envision an orbiting space complex consisting of tender (home base) satellite and one or more robot repairmen [text illegibie].

This complex could easily be put into a continuous 24-hour orbit by a booster such as a Titan III-C. The tender would be controlled by radio from a ground station, receiving instructions and navigational information on satellites requiring repair. Before the rendezvous with the disabled satellite, however, the tender and its resting repairman would have to make a linkup with a repair kit, containing replacement parts or modules, launched into orbit from the earth. After this docking the tender, repairman and repair, all joined in one complex, would change orbit to close on the satellite needing repair. The intricate maneuvering required to complete this rendezvous in the vastness of space and the ensuing repair job would be directed from earth. This is made possible by "eyes" in the space units. The tender would be equipped with at least one television camera and the robot repairman would have one or, more probably, two. The direction and focus of the cameras could be adjusted from earth. The robot repairman is a box-like creature with three multi-jointed arms and pincer-like fingers that can be operated by remote control. In addition to the information supplied by the TV camera, the manipulators will also feed information, much like human muscles and limbs when performing a job. This enables the ground-control station to make adjustments to properly conduct the repair. The repairman will be maneuvered by miniature attitude control rocket nozzles which can be operated from earth. Present space vehicles are not designed for such easy repair. Satellites of the future would be designed so that trouble-prone, sensitive or exhaustible parts would be located on the outer surface in easily replaceable modules. GE studies indicate that the ARMS project would pay off after 12 satellite repairs, another way of saying that the costs of the repair system would equal the replacement cost of 12 non-functional satellites and any succeeding repairs would be pure gain for the space system. And, of course, should one of the repairmen develop a malfunction, he will be operated on by another robot.

Source: Oakland Tribune (Newspaper) – September 15, 1968, Oakland, California 

The spacecraft has an approximate weight of 530 pounds and is approximately 12 inches deep by 40 inches wide by 75 inches high (including antennas). It has two electric bilateral manipulator arms that are slave to a master control system in a remote site. The system has a payload capability of about 500 pounds and a mission duration of 10 hours (Interim – Kugath, 1969).

Subsystem Description

 Translation Subsystem

     The propulsion is accomplished by a common blow-down monopropellant hydrazine subsystem. It would have large rendezvous engines for translation to the worksite and smaller thrusters for attitude control and maneuvering.

Stabilization/Control Subsystems

 The attitude-control subsystem functions in two modes, 1) it stabilizes only the remote manipulator spacecraft; and, 2) it also stabilizes the worksite by a three-axis, rate-integrating gyro package. A momentum storage device reduces the thruster usage at the worksite.

 The spacecraft maneuvers are performed automatically; the inputs to the guidance computer are produced by (docked satellite). The attitude reference is supplied.

 The optical (video) system consists of two cameras  which

1) give the operator a three-dimensional display,

2) provide redundancy in case of a camera failure, and

3) serve as range finder to supply data to guidance/control subsystem for rendezvous and docking.

ge remote manip space p156a x640 1968   Android Space Manipulator (Concept)   General Electric (American)

Actuator Subsystem

  This subsystem consists of three docking/stabilization arms and two manipulator arms. The manipulators are bilateral, slave type that resemble the human arms but

ge remote manip space p156b x640 1968   Android Space Manipulator (Concept)   General Electric (American)

are not anthropomorphous. The manipulator characteristics are shown 'in Table 5-6 and dimensions are given in figure 5-22. Table 5-7 gives the weights and estimated power requirements for the remote manipulator spacecraft.

ge remote manip space p158b x640 1968   Android Space Manipulator (Concept)   General Electric (American)

ge remote manip space p158a x640 1968   Android Space Manipulator (Concept)   General Electric (American)

ge remote manip space p159 x640 1968   Android Space Manipulator (Concept)   General Electric (American)

Volume 2, Final Report – Prepared for Marshall Space Flight Center – 9 April 1970.

Footnote: August, 2014 – This 1968 GE concept is the closest that resembles the Robonaut R2. The Robonaut R2 is currently the only humanoid robot in space and was delivered to the International Space Station in 2011. The current version can only operate internally, though.  There is an earlier dextrous dual-arm robot, called Dextre, delivered to the ISS in 2008, but this is not humanoid in shape and size.

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Robonaut R2 shaking the hand of Station Commander, Dan Burbank.

See other early Space Teleoperators here.

See other early Lunar and Space Robots here.

1973-8 – Daedalus ‘Wardens’ (Concept) – Bond, Martin, Grant et al (British)

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An autonomous Warden building, servicing and maintaining Daedalus.

 1973 8   Daedalus Wardens (Concept)   Bond, Martin, Grant et al (British)

 1973 8   Daedalus Wardens (Concept)   Bond, Martin, Grant et al (British)

 Above image source: Robots, by Peter Marsh, 1985

warden 1973 8   Daedalus Wardens (Concept)   Bond, Martin, Grant et al (British)

Autonomy and the Interstellar Probe – Sourced from here.

by Paul Gilster on March 19, 2013


…..The span between the creation of the Daedalus design in the 1970s and today covers the development of the personal computer and the emergence of global networking, so it’s understandable that the way we view autonomy has changed. Self-repair is also a reminder that a re-design like Project Icarus is a good way to move the ball forward. Imagine a series of design iterations each about 35 years apart, each upgrading the original with current technology, until a working craft is feasible.

… The key paper on robotic repair is T. J. Grant’s “Project Daedalus: The Need for Onboard Repair.”

Staying Functional Until Mission’s End

Grant runs through the entire computer system including the idea of ‘wardens,’ conceived as a subsystem of the network that maintains the ship under a strategy of self-test and repair. You’ll recall that Daedalus, despite its size, was an unmanned mission, so all issues that arose during its fifty year journey would have to be handled by onboard systems. The wardens carried a variety of tools and manipulators, and it’s interesting to see that they were also designed to be an active part of the mission’s science, conducting experiments thousands of kilometers away from the vehicle, where contamination from the ship’s fusion drive would not be a factor.

Even so, I’d hate to chance one of the two Daedalus wardens in that role given their importance to the success of the mission. Each would weigh about five tonnes, with access to extensive repair facilities along with replacement and spare parts. Replacing parts, however, is not the best overall strategy, as it requires a huge increase in mass — up to 739 tonnes, in Grant’s calculations! So the Daedalus report settled on a strategy of repair instead of replacement wherever possible, with full onboard facilities to ensure that components could be recovered and returned to duty. Here again the need for autonomy is paramount.

In a second paper, “Project Daedalus: The Computers,” Grant outlines the wardens’ job:

    …the wardens’ tasks would involve much adaptive learning throughout the complete mission. For example, the wardens may have to learn how to gain access to a component which has never failed before, they may have to diagnose a rare type of defect, or they may have to devise a new repair procedure to recover the defective component. Even when the failure mode of a particular, unreliable component is well known, any one specific failure may have special features or involve unusual complications; simple failures are rare.

Running through the options in the context of a ship-wide computing infrastructure, Grant recommends that the wardens be given full autonomy, although the main ship computer would still have the ability to override its actions if needed. The image is of mobile robotic repair units in constant motion, adjusting, tweaking and repairing failed parts as needed. Grant again:

    …a development in Daedalus’s software may be best implemented in conjunction with a change in the starship’s hardware… In practice, the modification process will be recursive. For example the discovery of a crack in a structural member might be initially repaired by welding a strengthening plate over the weakened part. However, the plate might restrict clearance between the cracked members and other parts, so denying the wardens access to unreliable LRUs (Line Replacement Units) beyond the member. Daedalus’s computer system must be capable of assessing the likely consequences of its intended actions. It must be able to choose an alternative access path to the LRUs (requiring a suitable change in its software), or to choose an alternative method of repairing the crack, or some acceptable combination.

Background information on "Project Daedalus":

Project Daedalus – Interstellar Mission – Sourced from here.

Daedalus Interstellar Probe

Daedalus Interstellar Probe – image copyright Adrian Mann[not included]

This was a thirteen member volunteer engineering design study conducted between 1973 and 1978, to demonstrate that Interstellar travel is feasible in theory. The project related to the Fermi Paradox first postulated by the Italian Physicist Enrico Fermi in the 1940s. This supposes that there has been plenty of time for intelligent civilizations to interact within our galaxy when one examines the age and number of stars, as well as the distances between them. Yet, the fact that extra-terrestrial intelligence has never been observed leads to a logical paradox where our observations are inconsistent with our theoretical expectation. This original question from Fermi seemed to also reinforce the prevailing paradigm at the time that interstellar travel was impossible. Project Daedalus was a bold way to examine the Fermi Paradox head on and gave a partial answer – interstellar travel is possible. The basis of this belief was the demonstration of a credible engineering design just at the outset of the space age that could in theory, cross the interstellar distances. In the future scientific advancement would lead to a refined and more efficient design. The absence of alien visitors would therefore require a different explanation because Project Daedalus demonstrated that with current, and near future, technology, interstellar travel is feasible. Therefore, another solution to the absence of extra-terrestrial visitation was necessary.

There were three stated goals for Project Daedalus:

    (1) The spacecraft must use current or near-future technology
    (2) The spacecraft must reach its destination within a working human lifetime
    (3)The spacecraft must be designed to allow for a variety of target stars. The final design solution was published in a special supplement of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society in 1978.

The two-stage engine configuration was powered by inertial confinement fusion using deuterium and helium-3 pellets. Electron beam diodes positioned around the base of the engine exhaust would impinge on the pellets and ignite them to produce large energy gain, at a rate of 250 detonations per second. This would continue for a boost phase lasting over 3.8 years followed by a cruise phase lasting 46 years and travelling at over 12% of the speed of light until the 450 tons science probe would finally reach its destination of the Barnard’s Star system 5.9 light years away, which it would transit in a matter of days due to its flyby nature.
Daedalus Interstellar Probe compared with Saturn V Moon rocket

Daedalus SV sml 1973 8   Daedalus Wardens (Concept)   Bond, Martin, Grant et al (British)

Daedalus Interstellar Probe compared with Saturn V Moon rocket – image copyright Adrian Mann

In the final study reports all of the main vehicle systems were considered including the structure, communications, navigation and the deployment of mitigation sub-systems to deal with the bombardment of interstellar dust. The pedigree for Project Daedalus derives directly from 1950-1960s Project Orion, a vehicle that used Atomic and Hydrogen bombs to propel the spacecraft. The main issue with Orion however was the existence of several nuclear test ban treaties which forbid the use or testing of such technology. Project Daedalus proposed to shrink this technology down to the size of pocket coins but still take advantage of the enormous energy release from a fusion based fuel.

The Project Daedalus study was primarily led by Alan Bond, Tony Martin and Bob Parkinson and even today the study distinguishes itself from all other studies as the most complete engineering study ever undertaken for an interstellar probe. Even if Daedalus is not the template for how our robotic ambassadors will someday reach the distant stars, at the very least it will be a crucial part of the journey for getting to that first launch. Rigorous engineering assessments are the only way to provide reliable information on what is possible today or in the near-future.

Source: Here

The Daedalus Future – Stephen Baxter, 11/11/13 – Sourced from here.


This paper explores the future society assumed by the Project Daedalus team as background to the building of their starship.

The plausibility of Project Icarus – like Daedalus before it – will depend to some extent on the plausibility of an imagined future society that might have the capability and will, socially, economically and technically, to mount such a project. In their introductory essay in the Daedalus final report ([1] ppS5-S7), Bond and Martin noted that ‘Without such a background the results of the study would probably be naive, and would certainly be incorrect’ (pS6).

The Daedalus project was inspired by the propulsion system choice, so the team had to envisage a society that would naturally support a pulse-fusion starship using He3 as fuel. The team drew on precursor work such as Parkinson’s papers [2] [3] [4] on the nature of a society on the brink of interstellar flight, and as Daedalus progressed it became possible for the team to envisage such a society more clearly, a society defined not just by what the team imagined it would be capable of but also by what it would not be capable of.

But what kind of society was this?

Daedalus Construction Concepts x640 1973 8   Daedalus Wardens (Concept)   Bond, Martin, Grant et al (British)

The sketch by Bill Dillon included in the final report (pS4), of the construction of Daedalus at Callisto, gives some indication. Along with an array of specialised craft surrounding the immense bulk of Daedalus itself, we glimpse a wheel-in-space habitat and an astronaut performing an EVA. This is evidently a society capable of mounting a manned construction operation on a massive scale above a moon of Jupiter – and has the will to devote such resources to the peaceful end of scientific exploration.

The purpose of this brief review is to summarise the ‘Daedalus future’ as specifically as possible, as depicted by clues and assumptions spread throughout the report. The hope is that this review will help us more clearly to imagine the assumed ‘Icarus future’ that will underpin the plausibility of our own starship.

Earth and the Solar System

Bond and Martin, in their introduction to the Daedalus report (ppS5-7), described a future Earth that was populous and energy-hungry. Against a background projected from the then-current ‘world energy crisis’, they predicted a demand for future energy sources of ‘minimal impact on the environment of Earth, which will by then be required to house about 1010 people’ (pS6).

What could such sources be? Bond and Martin noted the ‘apparent disadvantages’ then associated with nuclear fission (pS6). But the team did not envisage capabilities much beyond fusion. In their essays on the propulsion system, Martin and Bond said: ‘It is generally hoped that magnetic fusion reactors . . . will be operational . . . before the end of the century’. But producing antimatter for example was seen as requiring ‘large extrapolations of modern-day capabilities’ (pS45).

As for the fusion fuel choice, Martin and Bond go on to suggest a reliance on He3 because of its “cleanness”: ‘The deuterium-helium 3 reaction . . . [is] at present the only “clean” fusion reaction which can seriously be considered for application in reactors, from the point of view of achievable containment conditions and temperatures’ (pS7).

In his essay on propellant acquisition for Daedalus (ppS83-S89), notably the 30,000 tonnes of He3 required, Parkinson backed up this conclusion. With He3 impossibly scarce on Earth – the 1970s estimate of availability from various natural sources was one part in 104 to one part in 107 (pS83) – one option would be to breed the fuel load in ground-based fusion reactors, using either a D-D or D-T reaction. To produce the fuel at a rate of 1500 tons a year for 20 years (the team’s target timescale), either route would require power levels at multiples of Earth’s total present-day output, as well as consuming heroic quantities of other fuels and creating vast amounts of waste. Parkinson opined that a society capable of devoting such resources to a starship might find some other propulsion method easier, such as a laser-powered photon sail. Besides, a fusion-based society would be motivated to use any He3 available in a ‘clean reactor network’ on Earth (pS84).

Therefore, said Parkinson, the tapping of extraterrestrial sources of He3 ‘becomes a logical supply of propellant not simply for Daedalus but for mankind’ (pS84). Bond and Martin estimated that an import of 1000 tons of He3 per year from extraterrestrial sources could supply the world’s energy at 1970s levels; presumably more would be required for the more populous world of the future. And ‘the provision of the fuel for a starship may be merely an upgrading of this level of activity’ (pS7), a sensible projection if the 1500 tons per year for Daedalus is accepted.

The society of the future then would be populous, energy-rich, environmentally conscious, and connected to an interplanetary web of resource extraction and transportation, just as Earth is globally interconnected today: ‘That community will already be employing nuclear pulse rockets for space flight, and will probably be transporting helium 3 from the outer planets to the inner planets on a routine basis’ (pS7).

To build a starship would however require political will, and peace: ‘It seems probable that a Solar System wide culture making use of all its resources would easily be wealthy enough to afford such an undertaking [as Daedalus], and presumably in order to have reached the stage of extensive interplanetary flight would also have achieved reasonable political stability, and an acceptance of this new environment’ (pS7).

The sketched future scenario was in the end quite specific: ‘In summary, then, we envisage Daedalus-type vehicles being built by a wealthy (compared to the present day) Solar System wide community, probably sometime in the latter part of the 21st century’ (my italics) (pS7).

But people would still be people. In their essay on the mission profile ([1] ppS37-S42), Bond and Martin assume in passing that the mankind of the future era of the launch date will be much the same as today, with a ‘useful working life of about 40 years’ (pS38).

Space Operations

An interplanetary society this might be, but Parfitt and White in their paper on structural material selection (ppS97-S103) assumed that most materials for spacecraft and spaceborne structures, including Daedalus, would come from the Earth-moon system. For reasons of economy their choice of materials for Daedalus therefore concentrated on those most abundant on Earth, such as aluminium, ‘even if this imposes a small mass penalty’ (pS99).

In-space construction techniques were assumed by Strong and Bond in their paper on the vehicle configuration (ppS90-96); because Daedalus would not have to withstand the rigours of a planetary launch (and because the ship’s acceleration would be low), the main systems could be hung from a ‘slender structural spine’ (pS90). Bond and Martin sketched the construction programme: ‘The vehicle would be assembled in the inner Solar System, the exact location depending on where the manufacturing complexes may be located at that time. It would be fuelled either in Lunar or Jovian orbit depending on the source of helium 3. During preceding years several engineering mock-up and flight test vehicles would have been flown in an extensive test programme to develop system reliability to the required level’ (pS40). In his paper on navigation (ppS143-8) Richards suggested a full-scale rehearsal flight through the solar system (pS143).

As for other structures in space, in their paper on communications (ppS163-171) Lawton and Wright envisaged ‘the use of a very large array (VLA) “Cyclops” type system as the receiving antenna for the radio link. This can be either sited on Earth itself or (preferably) in space but in the vicinity of Earth’ (pS165). Indeed, it was anticipated that such arrays might be in operation for other purposes by the time Daedalus was launched. Cyclops [5] had been a 1972 study by NASA advocating an array of 1000 radio telescopes 10 miles across for the purposes of SETI.

Parkinson however ruled out very much larger structures. In his essay on propellant acquisition for Daedalus (ppS83-S89) Parkinson considered mining the solar wind for He3, but the number density of He3 nuclei in the solar wind is such that ‘to capture the propellant requirement in 20 years would require a cross-section of some 1011 km2 – or a circle 30 times the diameter of the Earth. Even allowing for large numbers of collecting units operating close to the Sun, it is difficult to imagine the individual collecting units having diameters less than thousands of kilometres’ (pS84). Parkinson remarks that a society capable of handling magnetic fields on this scale could well prefer alternative propulsion schemes.

Similarly an interstellar ramjet, which would require the control of electric and magnetic fields over very large length scales, was considered ‘not within a reasonable extrapolation of modern technology’ (pS45) by Bond and Martin in their notes on the choice of propulsion system.

The main space operation described was of course propellant acquisition. In his paper on the topic (ppS83-89) Parkinson speculated on specific sources of extraterrestrial He3. Mining Titan’s atmosphere might be relatively straightforward: ‘The extraction plant would not be mass-limited, and manned operation would ensure fairly continuous operation. In addition the escape velocity is low and transport costs would be minimal’ (pS89). However the available resource on Titan was probably limited; ‘one starship-load would take away 0.1% of the total available’.

Parkinson settled on mining Jupiter’s atmosphere, envisaging 128 ‘aerostat’ extraction factories, each weighing 130t, operating for 20 years in the Jovian atmosphere, with a power expenditure of ~500MW. Parkinson briefly speculated on the operational requirements of this spectacular venture (pS89): ‘Jupiter’s radiation belts make manned operations difficult within the satellite system, and so it is expected that most of the operation will be unmanned. Callisto, which appears to be outside the hazardous radiation zone, could be used as a base camp, and if manned operations have to be conducted in an orbit at the fringes of the Jovian atmosphere a well-shielded “transfer station” might be placed in an elliptical orbit between Callisto and the minimum altitude orbit.’


Artificial intelligence was seen as key to the success of Daedalus. Grant, in his paper on Daedalus’s computer systems (ppS130-142), gave a clear description of the requirements of those systems, including systems control, data management, navigation, and fault detection and rectification. All this would be beyond the influence of ground control, and so ‘the computers must play the role of captain and crew of the starship; without them the mission is impossible’ (pS130).

In his paper on reliability and repair (ppS172-179) Grant pointed out that Daedalus would have to survive ‘for up to 60 years with gross events such as boost, mid-course corrections and planetary probe insertions occurring during its lifetime’ (pS172). A projection of modern reliability figures indicated that a strategy of component redundancy and replacement would not be sufficient; Daedalus would not be feasible without on-board repair facilities (pS176). AI would be used in the provision of these facilities, partly through the use of mobile ‘wardens’ capable of manipulation.

A high degree of artificial intelligence was also a key assumption for Webb in his discussions of payload design for Daedalus (ppS149-161). Because the confirmation of the position and nature of any planets at the target system might come only weeks before the encounter (ppS153-S154), it would be the task of the onboard computer systems to optimise the deployment of the subprobes and backup probes.

In addition, during the cruise the wardens could construct such additional instruments as ‘temporary (because of erosion) radio telescopes many kilometres across from only a few kilograms of conducting thread’ (pS154), and even rebuild or manufacture equipment afresh after receipt of updated instructions from Earth (pS156). One intriguing possibility was a response to the detection of intelligent life in the target system, in which case ‘the possibility of adjusting the configuration of the vehicle for the purposes of CETI (Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence) in the post-encounter phase should always be borne in mind’ (pS151).

Grant foresaw the continuing miniaturisation of hardware, as was already evident in the 1970s, and envisaged Daedalus being equipped with hierarchies of ‘picocomputers’ (pS132). The design of the controlling artificial intelligence could only be sketched; it would have to be capable of ‘adaptive learning and flexible goal seeking’, which would necessitate ‘heuristic qualities’ beyond the merely logical (pS131). Grant imagined the system being capable of in-flight software development – indeed, Grant speculated that pre-launch Daedalus, given a general design by a human team, would be able to write most of its own software! (pS141).

This theme of humans working in partnership with smart machines is evident elsewhere. Parkinson (pS89), describing the Jupiter atmospheric mining operation, noted that ‘The degree of autonomy demanded of unmanned components in the system is illustrated by the fact that the delay time of communications between Callisto and a station within the Jovian atmosphere will be about 12 seconds.’


Summarising the Daedalus future, Parkinson argued that ‘[An] undertaking on the scale of Daedalus fits naturally into the context of a Solar System wide society making intelligent use of its resources, rather than a heroic effort on the part of a planet-based society’ (pS89). That society would evidently be capable of massive manned operations conducted at Jupiter, but would be limited to fusion as a power source, would not yet be capable for instance of building gigantic structures to harvest He3 from the solar wind, and would be suffused with artificial intelligences working mostly in partnership with humans. The fuel required for Daedalus would represent a sizeable increase in the extraction effort already extant at Jupiter to satisfy the terrestrial energy demand, but not the establishment of an entirely new capability, and not an increase in capacity of orders of magnitude.

The Daedalus assumptions have of course been extensively revisited, in internal Icarus discussions and elsewhere. Forty years on it does seem unlikely that the Daedalus future will come to pass ‘sometime in the latter part of the 21st century’. Recently Zubrin [6] has sketched a developed solar system with fuel transportation networks on an interplanetary scale, and Hein et al [7] tested the assumptions behind the use of interplanetary sources of He3. Parkinson meanwhile [8] revisited the idea of using He3-powered pulse-fusion rockets for interplanetary transport.

These retrospective considerations are however irrelevant to the success of Project Daedalus in its time. The ‘Daedalus future’, the social and economic basis the team assumed would be in place to support their interstellar mission, was logical, reasonable as a projection from the time the report was written, internally consistent, an essential underpinning to the feasibility of the report, and a model for our work on Icarus.


[1]        A. Bond et al, Project Daedalus Final Report, British Interplanetary Society, 1978.
[2]        R.C. Parkinson, ‘The Starship as Third Generation Technology’, JBIS 27, pp295ff, 1974.
[3]        R.C. Parkinson, ‘The Starship as an Exercise in Economics’, JBIS 27, pp692ff, 1974.
[4]        R.C. Parkinson, ‘The Starship as a Philosophical Vehicle’, JBIS 28, pp745ff, 1975.
[5]        J. Billingham et al, ‘Project Cyclops: A Design Study of a System for Detecting Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life’, NASA Ames, report CR114445, 1972.
[6]        R. Zubrin, ‘On the Way to Starflight: Economics of Interstellar Breakout’, in Starship Century, eds. J. and G. Benford, Microwave Sciences, 2013.
[7]        A. Hein, A. Tziolas and A. Crowl, ‘Architecture Development for Atmospheric Helium 3 Mining of the Outer Solar System Gas Planets for Space Exploration and Power Generation,’ IAC-10-D4.2.6, 2010.
[8]        R. Parkinson, ‘Using Daedalus for Local Transport’, JBIS 62 pp422-426, 2009.

See other early Space Teleoperators here.

See other early Lunar and Space Robots here.

1968 – Serpentuator – Frederic E. Wells, NASA/MSFC (American)

serpentuator msfc x640 1968   Serpentuator   Frederic E. Wells, NASA/MSFC (American)


serpentuator a x640 1968   Serpentuator   Frederic E. Wells, NASA/MSFC (American)

A rather unusual electrical unilateral teleoperator is the Serpentuator (Serpentine Actuator) under development at Marshall Space Flight Center (fig. 109 above). The Serpentuator consists of links several feet long separated by joints driven by electric motors, or, in one version, electrohydraulic actuators. With maximum deflections of about 20° per joint, the teleoperator can be coiled up in circular loops 20 feet in diameter and housed in the shroud of a Saturn rocket. Using switch controls at both ends of the Serpentuator, the operators can transfer tools, retrieve objects, aid astronauts, and perform other tasks in weightless space where positive controlled motion over distances greater than a few feet are difficult.

Crew and Cargo Transporters
Platforms for transporting men, and possibly cargo, fall into two general categories: those linked to the space-craft structures (serpentuator, trolley) and those capable of independent operation (LTV maneuvering work platform and Bendix EVA work platform).
Serpentuator – In 1968 a study was performed for NASA to determine the man/systems feasibility of using the MSFC-developed serpentuator as an EVA aid for film retrieval on the ATM mission. In this mission, the primary requirement for an EVA aid would be to assist the astronaut in transferring himself and seven fresh film magazines from the airlock-module egress hatch to each of the two ATM worksites–center work station and sun-end work station. After accomplishing this delivery task, the aid must assist the astronaut in returning himself and seven exposed film packages back to the hatch. The general requirements of the aid are that it possess the dynamics of motion are compatible with and controllable by a human operator (Bathurst and Mallory, 1968).
The Matrix study was an assessment of the degree to which these requirements were satisfied by the MSFC Serpentine Actuator or Serpentuator. This device consists of a series of connected, individually controlled and powered, articulated links with a roll-ring at the base and a payload cargo rack/ control station (CR/CS) at the tip. This device is depicted in Figure 4-7.

serpentuator 1   Copy x277 1968   Serpentuator   Frederic E. Wells, NASA/MSFC (American)

The serpentuator configuration selected for evaluation consisted of eight links and was 40 foot long and 4.5 inches in diameter. Each link was assumed to have a maximum deflection of 45deg in only one direction, and the base and CR/CS could be rotated +-180deg. This configuration was selected to be compatible with stowage requirements at launch.

An investigation of forces generated by serpentuators of varying lengths reported that a 54-foot long, 10-link configuration of the same diameter as that selected for study on the ATM could exert 9.5 pounds of force at the tip. A force of this magnitude is capable of accelerating a 500-pound mass (the approximate mass of the astronaut, film magazines, and CR/CS) at a rate of .025 fps2. If this acceleration is continued for a period of 20 seconds, the velocity of the payload will be approximately 4.2 fps.

   In an effort to establish the geometric capability of the serpentuator, the surface of the geometric figure described by the tip when each joint is moved sequentially through its 45o and the base roll angle is held constant was plotted and is depicted in Figure 4-8. If this area is then rotated +-180deg about the base, the solid which is generated represents  the volume which may be reached by the tip when no obstructions are present. Comparing this envelope with that of the ATM cluster, it was obvious that both film retrieval work stations and the airlock hatch were well within the reach envelope of the Serpentuator. It was, therefore, assumed that the Serpentuator was conceptually capable of performing as an EVA translation aid for ATM.

serpentuator txt 4 x413 1968   Serpentuator   Frederic E. Wells, NASA/MSFC (American)

In the life support area, the primary problem was umbilical management. A system for controlling the umbilical was proposed and is depicted in figure 4-9.

serpentuator 5 x640 1968   Serpentuator   Frederic E. Wells, NASA/MSFC (American)

Prime Vehicle Serpentuator System
The Prime Vehicle Serpentuator System is an advanced version of the serpentuator described in Section 4.4.1[see above]. This system, as applied to the prime vehicle class, is only in the conceptual stage of development, but most of the parameters described for the system used to support EVA also apply to the prime vehicle manipulator version. The astronaut control station would be replaced by a "robot" type subsystem containing video cameras, electrically driven bilateral actuator "arm" assemblies, etc. The man/machine interface problems would be minimized by designing these subsystems to closely resemble the human configuration (anthropomorphic and anthropometric). The control system would be more sophisticated than the EVA version, leaving few functions that would not be contained on pre-programmed modes. The astronaut would control and monitor/direct the system from a station within the prime vehicle with direct visual or video access
to the worksite, if necessary. Figure 5-11 illustrates this concept.

serpentuator p139a x640 1968   Serpentuator   Frederic E. Wells, NASA/MSFC (American)

Source: SELECTION OF SYSTEMS TO PERFORM EXTRAVEHICULAR ACTIVITIES – Man and Manipulator – Contract # NA88-24384 – Volume 2, Final Report -Prepared for Marshall Space Flight Center – 9 April 1970.

As the Serpentuator was to operate in a zero gravity environment, testing required devices such as air bearings or underwater testing as shown below.

serpentuator air bearing test 1 x380 1968   Serpentuator   Frederic E. Wells, NASA/MSFC (American)

serpentuator air bearing test 2 x251 1968   Serpentuator   Frederic E. Wells, NASA/MSFC (American)

Serpentuator Corpus Christi Caller Times 20Oct68    Copy x640 1968   Serpentuator   Frederic E. Wells, NASA/MSFC (American)

serpentuator pat 2 x640 1968   Serpentuator   Frederic E. Wells, NASA/MSFC (American)

serpentuator pat 1 x408 1968   Serpentuator   Frederic E. Wells, NASA/MSFC (American)

Publication number    US3631737 A
Publication date    Jan 4, 1972
Filing date    Sep 18, 1970
Inventors    Wells Frederic E
Original Assignee    Nasa

Remote control manipulator for zero gravity environment
US 3631737 A
A manipulator for handling objects remotely in a zero gravity environment comprising a plurality of rigid tubular sections joined end-to-end by flexible joints to form an articulated arm based at one end and free at the other end. Each of the rigid sections is manipulated by slender control cables attached to the respective sections and selectively extended and retracted. The cables are guided along the length of the articulated arm by means including the tubular sections, apertured disks at the flexible joints, and apertured lateral projections at the ends of the tubular sections. The free end of the articulated arm is provided with means, such as a grapple or an electromagnet, for holding an object being handled.

See other early Space Teleoperators here.

See other early Lunar and Space Robots here.

1976 – Manned Space Pod with Manipulators (Concept) – Boeing (American)

MAWSart small x640 1976   Manned Space Pod with Manipulators (Concept)   Boeing (American)

Some robots will be made up of computerized "brawn" working in combination with human "brains" to form an efficient whole. These one-man capsules would enable workers to survive in space while performing complex tasks using robotic remote manipulators. (The Boeing Co.)

MAWSart small   Copy   Copy 1976   Manned Space Pod with Manipulators (Concept)   Boeing (American)

Boeing manipulator 3 x640 1976   Manned Space Pod with Manipulators (Concept)   Boeing (American)

MAWSart small   Copy   Copy (2) 1976   Manned Space Pod with Manipulators (Concept)   Boeing (American)

Compare with Boeing's earlier 1965 concept here.

See other early Space Teleoperators here.

See other early Lunar and Space Robots here.