Mechanical & Materials Engineering, Department of


First Advisor

Shane Farritor

Date of this Version

Spring 5-2023


A THESIS Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Master of Science, Major: Mechanical Engineering & Applied Mechanics, Under the Supervision of Professor Shane M. Farritor Lincoln, Nebraska: May, 2023

Copyright © 2023 Rachael A. Wagner


This thesis describes the design of a technology demonstration payload that will test robotic surgery while aboard a 2024 expedition of the International Space Station (ISS). The payload utilizes a new miniature surgical robot to complete simulated surgical tasks on orbit, both autonomously and while remotely controlled by an Earth-based user. The experiment investigates the effects of microgravity and latency on robotic surgery, with the following goals:

1. Demonstrate the use of a miniature robotic surgical system in microgravity through performing simulated surgical tasks.

2. Quantify the effects of microgravity on robotic surgical techniques including forces, torques, and kinematic accuracy.

3. Quantify the latency involved in near-Earth orbital teleoperation and its impacts on the surgeon user.

4. Compare microgravity results with terrestrial results to inform future robotic approaches for long-duration spaceflight.

The surgical tasks are first performed on Earth under normogravity and eventually performed on the ISS in microgravity. Robot precision and dexterity in both environments can then be compared. These capabilities contribute to successful robotic surgeries on Earth and will be essential in space.

The payload is contained within an ISS Express Rack Locker. It includes the surgical robot system, task board, auxiliary camera, support electronics, and control computer. The completed locker must comply with the ISS’s structural, electrical, command and data handling, thermal, environmental, materials, and human factors requirements.

A key element of this project involves collaboration with NASA to integrate the experiment into the broader ISS infrastructure. The evolution of the payload design is discussed, detailing the construction and testing of multiple mock-ups. This includes a mechanically and electrically functional prototype used to simulate the flight payload within a reverse engineered version of NASA’s locker hardware. Surgical task development and evaluation are both described. Certain safety consideration processes and flight verification activities are necessary for the payload. Finally, human factors guidelines for crew interfaces and procedures for on-orbit operations are outlined.

Interventional surgery will become necessary as humans travel farther and longer in space. Surgical robots are a possible solution. This technology demonstration is an important step toward more advanced medical care for long-duration spaceflight.

Advisor: Shane M. Farritor

Initial Prototype Video.mp4 (120261 kB)
Initial Prototype Video

Functional Prototype Video.mp4 (91626 kB)
Functional Prototype Video