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Friday, 6 December, 2002, 16:49 GMT
Space dream for Chinese science
Robotic arm,  ISS
The robotic arm is vital for spacewalks
Scientific experiments designed by Chinese students could soon be taking place on the International Space Station (ISS).

Talks to discuss the possibilities are currently taking place between the directors of the orbital platform and Chinese officials.

However, the US Space Agency (Nasa) has denied reports that a Chinese robot may be joining the crew of the platform.

The People's Daily newspaper had claimed Chinese aerospace engineers were hoping their robotic arm could become a permanent fixture on board the ISS.

Rice grains

A number of experiments for the station, designed by students of many nationalities, are being considered by Nasa.

Some of the tests will establish how well plants and animals will cope in space.

The Chinese experiments include growing rice on board the ISS.

But no decision has yet been made on which experiments will go into orbit.

"Mr E"

The latest reports from the Chinese press suggest that a robotic arm may become the latest bit of equipment to help the crew of the station.

The arm is designed by engineers at the National Aerospace High Technology Space Robotics Engineering Research Centre in Beijing.

It has two separate limbs, numerous joints and 14 pairs of sensors.

Officially called the EMR, it has now been nicknamed "Mr E" by researchers.

Extra help

According to the People's Daily there are also grapple devices attached to the arm which behave like fingers on a hand and could be used to perform precision operations.

The arm could work both inside and outside the station, the People's Daily reported.

Chinese researchers say it could "walk" to different locations on the space station or anchor itself to a specific point to perform certain tasks.

The ISS already has one robotic arm - the space station remote manipulator system.

Open door

It is made up of the canadarm2 - a newer version of the space shuttles' robotic arm, the mobile base system - which allows the arm to move along the length of the station - and the special purpose dexterous manipulator which is used for delicate assembly work.

The arm moves equipment and supplies around the station, supports astronauts working in space and helps maintain the instruments attached to the ISS.

But Nasa told BBC News Online that it was not aware of any discussions concerning a new robotic arm from China.

But it did say it was keen to involve as many countries as possible in the station project.

See also:

02 Dec 02 | Science/Nature
01 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
09 Dec 02 | Science/Nature
14 Jun 02 | Science/Nature
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