Surprise! China’s space station has a 3rd, mini robotic arm. Watch it in action (video)

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The miniature robotic arm inside China's Tiangong space station helps astronauts with science experiments and other activities.

China’s space station has unveiled the presence of a third, more diminutive robotic arm stationed within to provide invaluable assistance to astronauts. The Tiangong space station is notably equipped with a pair of robotic arms mounted on its exterior. These arms, measuring 33 feet (10 meters) and 16.4 feet (5 meters) in length, possess the capability to traverse the exterior of the Tiangong and have played pivotal roles in the station’s construction and aiding astronauts during spacewalks.

However, concealed within the confines of the space station’s Mengtian experiment module, a third and considerably smaller dexterous arm has been recently disclosed by Chinese broadcaster CCTV. This interior arm spans approximately 27.5 inches to 31.4 inches (70 to 80 centimeters) in length, exhibiting an impressive operational accuracy of 0.004 inches (0.1 millimeters). Its functions encompass assisting astronauts in tasks such as maintenance, installation, and adjustment operations. Moreover, this diminutive arm proves to be of immense value in conducting space experiments.

For instance, it can be employed to sterilize external payloads brought into the cabin, including biological materials following experiments. The end tools affixed to the robotic arm can be swapped to adapt to various tasks. Zhang Lu, a researcher at the Technology and Engineering Center for Space Utilization under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, explains, “We could have different end tools installed on the robotic arm to perform different tasks in the years to come. If there are some tedious tasks like turning screws or sampling, we can replace the end tool with a small clamping jaw or electric scissors to complete the operation.”

China successfully completed the construction of the three-module Tiangong space station in late 2022, with the sixth and most recent crew arriving aboard the Shenzhou 17 spacecraft last month. China has expressed its ambition to maintain a permanent human presence on Tiangong for at least a decade and has plans for the expansion of this orbital outpost in the forthcoming years.

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