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Robotic arm on China's space station does a demo, swings out 20 degrees and back while holding cargo ship

Plan is to use the arm to finish putting the outpost together

The China Manned Space Engineering Office (CMSEO) says it has completed load-bearing tests on its space station's 10m robotic arm.

The test involved lifting and moving the Tianzhou-2 cargo ship in a 47-minute operation that assessed the arm's ability to assemble sections of the station while in orbit, which is exactly what space boffins want to do during upcoming construction tasks on the unfinished outpost.

"After the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft was unlocked and separated from the core cabin of Tianhe, it was dragged by the robotic arm to perform the plane indexing centered at the core cabin node; then, the reverse operation [took place], until the cargo spacecraft and the core compartment are berthed and locked," explained CSMEO in Chinese.

According to state-sponsored media China Global Television Network (CGTN), the robotic arm, which can lift objects with a mass of up to 20 tonnes, had swung back and forth by 20˚.

China's space station, Tiangong, currently consists of the Tianhe core module, the Shenzhou-13 spaceship, and two cargo ships: Tianzhou-2 and Tianzhou-3.

Shenzhou-14 and its crew are scheduled to bring supply-filled cargo ship Tianzhou-4 this year to the currently uninhabited space station, where the team will receive two lab modules, Wentian and Mengtian.

At a later date, Tianzhou-5 will be accompanied by Shenzhou-15 and its taikonauts, which will kickstart the space station's crew rotation. Tiangong is expected to function for around a decade.

There has been a lot of hand-wringing over China's use of robotic arms. US military leaders told Congress that the technology could be used to grapple satellites when equipped on spacecraft.

The International Space Station currently has three robotic arms, the Canadarm2, the Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System, and the European Robotic Arm. ®

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