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In photos: Canadarm2 celebrates 20 years on the International Space Station

, marks the 20th anniversary of the launch of Canadarm2, Canada's iconic robotic arm on the International Space Station (ISS).

After two decades of high-flying operations to assemble Station modules, catch dozens of cargo ships, keep the Station in ship-shape, and assist astronauts during spacewalks, Canadarm2 continues to enable scientific discovery and make its mark as a symbol of Canadian excellence in space robotics.

It also serves as inspiration for Canadarm3, a cutting-edge robotic system destined for a new chapter of lunar exploration.

Here are 20 photos that offer a look back at some key moments in Canadarm2 history.

1. Ready for launch

Neatly folded for a ride aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour, Canadarm2 is seen at the Kennedy Space Center Space Station Processing Facility, being prepared for launch in . The 17-metre-long robotic arm was built by MDA for the Canadian Space Agency.

Canadarm2 at MD Robotics

Credit: NASA

2. All-Canadian robotic "handshake"

Among its earliest tasks on the Station, Canadarm2 took part in a high-flying manoeuvre: the all-Canadian handshake, in which the new robotic arm (right) passed its own launch cradle to Endeavour's Canadarm. Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield controlled Canadarm from within the Shuttle.

Canadarm2 – Images of a 10-Year History

Credit: NASA

3. Canadarm2's early days on the ISS

The ISS has grown and evolved over the last two decades, thanks to Canadarm2's ability to add and relocate new Station modules. Taken in just after the departure of Space Shuttle Endeavour on Mission STS-100, this photograph shows an early configuration of the Station, showcasing its newly installed robotic arm.

International Space Station

Credit: NASA

4. Building a laboratory in space, module by module

Controlled from inside the ISS by NASA astronaut Susan Helms, Canadarm2 installs the Quest airlock on the starboard side of the Unity module on the Station in .

Credit: NASA

5. Canadarm2 hard at work

The Canadian Mobile Base System (MBS) is manoeuvred by Canadarm2 for installation on the ISS in . The MBS is a moveable work platform and storage location that allows Canadarm2 to move along the Station's truss, or its central backbone.

Credit: NASA

6. Working in unison

Station assembly continues in with the installation of a section of the integrated truss. Space Shuttle Discovery's Canadarm passes a truss section to Canadarm2.

Working in unison

Credit: NASA

7. Smooth ride!

In , while anchored to the foot restraint on Canadarm2, Canadian Space Agency astronaut Dave Williams removed and replaced a faulty control moment gyroscope, one of four that control the Station's attitude in orbit.

Mission STS-118 - Dave Williams' spacewalk

Credit: NASA

8. A tale of two robotic arms

Canadarm and Canadarm2 work together to unload cargo from the payload bay of Space Shuttle Endeavour in .

The Canadarm(s) at Work

Credit: NASA

9. Construction continues

Photographed through a window on the ISS, Canadarm2 moves the European Space Agency's Columbus laboratory from Space Shuttle Atlantis's payload bay to the starboard side of the Harmony module in .

Credit: NASA

10. Canadarm2 gets a Canadian robotic co-worker, Dextre

In March 2008, Canadarm2 was joined on the ISS by the Canadian-built Dextre. Canadarm2 removed the multitalented robot from Space Shuttle Endeavour's payload bay and transferred it to the ISS. The two-armed robot is seen here grappled by Canadarm2 near the Station's solar arrays.

Credit: NASA

11. Canadarm2 and Dextre on duty

During the last spacewalk of the Shuttle program in , Canadarm2 moves NASA astronaut Mike Fossum towards Dextre to relocate a hardware box designed for the Robotic Refueling Mission. The Mission and follow-up operations saw Dextre successfully demonstrate the ability to robotically refuel satellites and other spacecraft in orbit.

Credit: NASA

12. Canadarm2, expert cargo ship catcher

After grappling the Japanese HTV ship in and , Canadarm2 grappled its first private spacecraft in , performing a cosmic catch of SpaceX's Dragon capsule. The mighty Canadian arm has caught cargo ships a total of 44 times to date, ensuring a steady supply of scientific equipment and fresh food for numerous Station crews.

Canadarm2 catches the Dragon resupply ship

Credit: NASA

13. A spectacular view in a spectacular hue

In , European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst shared this snapshot of Canadarm2 keeping watch above a stunning aurora, a celestial phenomenon that occurs when solar wind strikes Earth's upper atmosphere.

Credit: ESA/NASA

14. Dextre and Canadarm2, an iconic duo

Canada's space robots often team up to unload unpressurized cargo from visiting vehicles. Dextre is pictured in this image carrying the RapidScat instrument assembly, which the nimble robot had just removed from Dragon's trunk. The payload was later attached to an adapter on the Station's Columbus lab.

Credit: NASA

15. A warm welcome

After a high-flying catch with astronauts at the controls, Canadarm2 slowly guides an unpiloted Cygnus cargo ship toward the Unity module for docking on the ISS in . The 17-metre-long robotic arm is operated from the ground by robotics flight controllers during these precision docking events.

Credit: NASA

16. A helping hand

This unique picture of Canadarm2's "hand" was taken through a docking port window by Canadian Space Agency astronaut David Saint-Jacques during his Canadian record-setting 204-day stay on the ISS.


Credit: CSA/NASA

17. Clear skies for Canadarm2 and Dextre

In this photo, the Station's Canadian robotic pair hang out with the SpaceX Dragon resupply ship about 400 kilometres above the Atlantic Ocean.

Credit: NASA

18. A light suit for a dark night

European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano is backdropped by the blackness of space in this striking photo. The spacewalker was anchored to Canadarm2 for a series of three EVAs, or extravehicular activities, to repair the Station's Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a cosmic particle detector.

Credit: NASA

19. Canadarm2 soaks up an eye-popping view of Earth

NASA astronaut Jessica Meir shared this image of Canadarm2 on social media in , shortly after the installation of Bartolomeo, the European Space Agency's external science platform. Canadian robotics Canadarm2 and Dextre are perfectly suited for handling sensitive payloads that require a delicate touch.

Credit: NASA

20. The present meets the future

Patiently waiting for its next grapple, Canadarm2 is seen catching a break in front of the distant Moon. As part of efforts for sustainable lunar exploration, Canada will contribute Canadarm3 to the Lunar Gateway. The small space station in orbit around the Moon is a key part of an ambitious plan to send humans deeper into space than we have ever been.

The present and the future

Credit: NASA

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