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Robotic Arm

The robotic arm is a very important tool on space missions. The International Space Station, Mars rover, and the InSight Lander all use a robotic arm to perform tasks like moving cargo and taking scientific measurements.  In this activity, you will build your own simulated robotic arm to transport cargo and retrieve satellites.

Video Courtesy NASA

Robotic Arm Build
  • Paper Towel Roll Spindle (cardboard tube)

  • 2 straws

  • Tape

  • Rubber Band

  • Scissor

  • Tape

  • Bottle Caps

  • Plastic Cup

  • Printable cutout sheet for this activity (found at the bottom of Cosmoto's Week 4 Site Page)

Step 1

Cut the cardboard tube about 7 inches long and wrap the outside in aluminum foil.

Step 2

Make a slit in only one side of a straw using a scissor. 

Step 3

Insert one end of a rubber band into this slit. Then, tape over the slit to secure that part of the rubber band to the straw.

Step 4

Fold the other straw in half, then measure 1.5 inches from each end and make another fold in the straw. You should have a total of three folds in this other straw.

Step 5

Tape each end of this straw to itself to form the arm's "claw".  When you pinch the "claw" together (by bending the claw at its center) the ends should now touch.  If the ends of the straw don't touch when you bring them together, readjust the tape or make new folds in the straw so that the ends are aligned and touch.

Step 6

Loop the rubber band (from the first straw) around the middle of the bent (second) straw. Tape the rubber band in place to the center of the straw "claw".

Step 7

Insert the long unbent straw into the cardboard tube and pull it through until the other straw, with the claw, extends outside the cardboard tube's opening.  Gently pull on the long unbent straw to maneuver and  pick up items with the "claw".  You have now built a simulated robotic arm!

Cut out the cargo and satellite cutouts from the printable cutout sheet for this activity.  Insert a cutout of cargo or a satellite into the inside of each water bottle cap.


Challenge: How many satellites and pieces of cargo can you pick up in 60 seconds? In 30 seconds?

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