The RMS arm is 50 feet 3 inches long and 15 inches in diameter and has six degrees of freedom. It weighs 905 pounds, and the total system weighs 994 pounds. The RMS has six joints that correspond roughly to the joints of the human arm, with shoulder yaw and pitch joints; an elbow pitch joint; and wrist pitch, yaw and roll joints. The end effector is the unit at the end of the wrist that actually grabs, or grapples, the payload. The two lightweight boom segments are called the upper and lower arms. The upper boom connects the shoulder and elbow joints, and the lower boom connects the elbow and wrist joints. The RMS arm attaches to the orbiter payload bay longeron at the shoulder manipulator positioning mechanism. Power and data connections are located at the shoulder MPM.
The RMS is capable of deploying or retrieving payloads weighing up to 65,000 pounds when in space, though the arm motors are unable to move the arm's own weight under the influence of Earth's gravity. The RMS can also retrieve, repair and deploy satellites; provide a mobile extension ladder for extravehicular activity crew members for work stations or foot restraints; and be used as an inspection aid to allow the flight crew members to view the orbiter's or payload's surfaces through a television camera on the RMS.
The basic RMS configuration consists of a manipulator arm; an RMS display and control panel, including rotational and translational hand controllers at the orbiter aft flight deck flight crew station; and a manipulator controller interface unit that interfaces with the orbiter computer.
One flight crew member operates the RMS from the aft flight deck control station, and a second flight crew member usually assists with television camera operations. This allows the RMS operator to view RMS operations through the aft flight deck payload and overhead windows and through the closed-circuit television monitors at the aft flight deck station.
Spar Aerospace Ltd., a Canadian company, designed, developed, tested and built the RMS. CAE Electronics Ltd. in Montreal provides electronic interfaces, servoamplifiers and power conditioners. Dilworth, Secord, Meagher and Associates Ltd. in Toronto is responsible for the RMS end effector. Rockwell International's Space Transportation Systems Division designed, developed, tested and built the systems used to attach the RMS to the payload bay of the orbiter.