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The history of Canadarm2

Canadarm2 made its debut on board the International Space Station (ISS) in . The Canadian robotic arm is an improved version of the original Canadarm, which worked on NASA's fleet of Space Shuttles for 30 years (-).

Here is an overview of the famous robotic arm's journey, from design to deployment.

Design and assembly

Canadarm2 was designed, built, and tested from to by MDA in Brampton, Ontario.

The second-generation arm was designed to feature:


Canadarm2 being assembled and tested at the MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) facility in Brampton, Ontario. (Credit: MD Robotics Ltd.)

Sending anything to space is complex, but Canadarm2's destination presented a new challenge. Since the robot was not going to return to Earth for refurbishing or maintenance, all of its parts had to be replaceable in space.

Preparation and delivery

Before leaving Earth on its one-way trip to space on , Canadarm2 was safely secured or "bolted" to a custom metal pallet designed to keep the arm intact during transportation. The pallet was loaded into NASA Space Shuttle Endeavour's payload bay.

In the meantime, other preparations were also made to ensure a smooth delivery. Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Chris Hadfield was one of the two crew members assigned to unpack and set up Canadarm2 on the Station.

History was about to be made: Hadfield would become the first Canadian to ever perform a spacewalk.

To ensure a flawless installation and prepare for technical activities, Hadfield and NASA astronaut Scott Parazynski participated in intensive training.

Both practised tasks underwater at NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, in the 12-metre-deep pool designed to simulate the weightlessness of space.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield trains for STS-100

CSA astronaut Chris Hadfield practises robotics manoeuvres on a simulator. Next to him is Italian astronaut Umberto Guidoni. (Credit: NASA)

Hadfield also learned to operate the Shuttle's Canadarm through hours of training on a robotics simulator. Among other duties, he would be responsible for using the Canadarm to put the pallet back into the Shuttle for return to Earth.

Installation and powering up

Installing Canadarm2 on the Space Station required complex choreography.

Once Endeavour was within range of the ISS, the Canadarm lifted the metal pallet containing Canadarm2 from the Shuttle's cargo bay to attach it to the ISS's Destiny laboratory.

Spacewalkers Hadfield and Parazynski then:

From inside the Station, NASA astronauts Susan Helms and Jim Voss remotely commanded Canadarm2 to reach out with one of its two "hands." Canadarm2 attached itself to a power data grapple fixture on the Destiny module. The arm released itself from the pallet, marking its first manoeuvre in space.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield on a mission STS-100 spacewalk

CSA astronaut Chris Hadfield performs his historic spacewalk to install Canadarm2. (Credit: NASA)

A historic robotic handshake

On , Canada's famous robotic arms accomplished a task together and engaged in the first "robotic handshake" in space history.

The Canadian arms collaborated to place the metal transportation pallet in Endeavour's cargo bay for return to Earth:

Canadarm2 – Images of a 10-Year History

Both Canadian robotic arms work together in space for the first time. (Credit: NASA.)

Testing and deployment

Following the installation, Canadarm2's basic functions were tested. The arm was able to carry out its activities and help assemble the Space Station.

Canadarm2 assembled the majority of the ISS's components and modules. It has also moved several tonnes of material and supported many astronauts during risky spacewalks.

Currently, the Canadian robotic arm is used to:

Canadarm2, Dextre and Earth

A view of Canadian space robots Canadarm2 and Dextre on the ISS, far above Earth. (Credit: NASA)

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