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Talks of a new Hubble servicing mission have made me curious:

Has a spacewalk between a crewed craft and a free-flying satellite ever occurred?

As far as I am aware, the Shuttle visited satellites and repaired/recovered them on multiple occasions; however, these were always accompanied with the robotic arm (RMS) first capturing the satellite target and then bringing it into the payload bay before the astronauts visited it.

Bonus question: I'm assuming that this hasn't been done, but have NASA (or any other space agency) ever considered this?

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  • $\begingroup$ In detail, how does '… however, these were always accompanied with the robotic arm (RMS) first capturing the satellite target and then bringing it into the payload bay…' actually matter? The shuttles matched trajectories with the free-flying satellites, then did their thing. Isn't first capturing the target and then bringing it into the payload bay a great deal more complex and dangerous than simply having the astronaut space-walk to the target? $\endgroup$ Dec 13, 2023 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ @RobbieGoodwin I'd say that an untethered EVA is is up there with "most dangerous things astronauts do in space". The failure modes are all very bad: any MMU failure is immediately an emergency of the highest order. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Dec 14, 2023 at 20:14
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks and if that was important to your Question, why did you not include it there? Why not now Edit the Question to include tethering? $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2023 at 21:27

3 Answers 3

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with the robotic arm (RMS) first capturing the satellite target

Whilst the CanadArm was involved in capturing the satellites, sometimes the capture was done by people attached to the arm, not by the arm itself.

Of course, in the really early days, they took a more adventurous approach

e.g. STS-51-A November 1984

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  • $\begingroup$ The MMU was also used on STS-41-C to grab Solar Max. Not as successful though. $\endgroup$
    – Ludo
    Dec 6, 2023 at 20:14
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On shuttle mission STS-41C a free-flying crewmember using the Manned Maneuvering Unit flew out to the Solar Max satellite and attempted to dock with it.

(astronaut at lower right)

enter image description here

The docking failed because of design issues with the grapple hardware.

After some replanning, the shuttle grabbed the satellite with its robot arm and the repair was successfully carried out.

Reference: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STS-41-C

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STS 49 baby! May 1992.

They launched, tried to capture the Intelsat 603 satellite that failed into orbit.

First two tries using the CanadArm to grapple failed, finally they did it by hand, and then the CanadArm could grapple it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Incredible, hand-capturing a satellite really feels like shuttle-era shenanigans (in a good way) $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Dec 6, 2023 at 15:33
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    $\begingroup$ Turns out human bodies are better at awkward improvised processes than a big robot arm is. $\endgroup$ Dec 6, 2023 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ To be clear: the astronauts were attached to the Shuttle when grabbing. They were standing on a platform in the payload bay. $\endgroup$
    – Ludo
    Dec 6, 2023 at 20:15
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    $\begingroup$ @DarthPseudonym not on 41-C. $\endgroup$ Dec 7, 2023 at 3:26
  • $\begingroup$ Video of this: youtu.be/zKzf9W9O16E?t=310 $\endgroup$
    – KarlKastor
    Dec 18, 2023 at 14:06

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