Going Out of This World with NASA


NASA needed a solution for their robotic arm on the space shuttle. Astronauts on the shuttle couldn’t operate the arm unless they were able to see it — a task that required them to put on a spacesuit and go for a walk.

To solve this issue, NASA needed a PC card that could plug into the laptop onboard the space station and communicate with the robotic arm. However, the laptop only held two PC cards, and both slots were taken for other applications. NASA needed a custom PC card able to accommodate additional functionality.

9009 Interface

Sealevel worked with MD Robotics to design a multi-port PC Card that interfaces between the Payload and General Support Computer (PGSC) and the MCIU of the SRMS, and other serial asynchronous RS-422 communication devices. The system consists of the 9009 PC card, necessary cables and drivers. The 9009 provides a synchronous serial data acquisition channel and two RS-422 asynchronous serial channels.

The Sealevel Solution

Sealevel’s custom PC card connects to the robotic arm through a cable. A 3D image of the arm is then visible on the screen of the space station laptop. Astronauts can digitally see the arm’s position and operate it without going outside. As the arm is moved, data is instantly sent to the laptop, and the 3D image is updated.

The PC Card design needed to provide multiple synchronous and asynchronous serial ports, as well as withstand proton irradiation and other rigorous environmental tests. The initial prototype was first completed in June 2000 and the design was revised in only three weeks before going to production. Sealevel’s 9009 interface was first used on the space station in October 2000.

“When my friend and NASA shuttle veteran Jim Newman called, I found it hard to turn down his request.  Sealevel Systems has supported NASA and other government operations in the past.  The opportunity to take on such a high-profile and interesting project could not be denied.  Sealevel Systems benefits from this kind of development as well.  It builds teamwork, takes our engineering to new technical heights, and provides a necessary product to the Aerospace community, which is always good for business.  Sealevel Systems is proud to support the Space Program and looks forward to many more rewarding projects with NASA.”

Tom O’Hanlan, CEO & Founder, Sealevel Systems, Inc.

Looking Ahead
With the establishment of the U.S. Space Force (USSF) in late 2019, Sealevel looks forward to future opportunities to combine our extensive experience with rugged defense solutions and passion for space.