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About Dextre

Dextre is a versatile robot that maintains the International Space Station (ISS). Part of Canada's contribution to the Station, it is the most sophisticated space robot ever built.

Dextre's tasks

Dextre tackles the tough or routine jobs that need to be done in the harsh environment of space. The Station's robotic handyman allows astronauts to spend more time doing scientific experiments instead of going on risky spacewalks.

Dextre can:

This computer-generated simulation shows Dextre's battery replacement operations on the ISS. (Credit: Canadian Space Agency)

Canada's contribution to the ISS consists of cutting-edge robots Canadarm2 and Dextre, and the Mobile Base System, a transport and storage platform.

All three elements are essential for many maintenance tasks and regular operations.

How Dextre works

Dextre's body was designed to move in many different ways.

Each of its arms has seven joints that can move up and down, go from side to side, and rotate. This large range of motion means Dextre can actually carry out more complex movements than a human arm.

The robot has a human-like sense of touch! Its hands work like Swiss Army knives. Each hand has:

The robot can carefully grip delicate equipment without causing damage. Although Dextre is strong enough to work with refrigerator-sized gear, it can also handle pieces as small as a toaster. In fact, Dextre's work can even be precise down to a few millimetres. During a mission to refuel a simulated satellite, the robotic handyman successfully manipulated small safety caps, cables and wires with minute precision—all while being controlled from Earth, hundreds of kilometres away.

Dextre, the ISS's robotic handyman
Servicing the ISS since - Text version

Servicing the ISS since

  • Performs maintenance work like changing batteries and replacing cameras
  • Reduces the number of risky spacewalks for astronauts
  • Works with portable tools that can refuel mock satellites, detect ammonia leaks, and soon, scan the ISS in high definition
  • Is operated by controllers on the ground at NASA or the Canadian Space Agency (CSA)

Fun facts

  • Works mostly when astronauts are sleeping.
  • Most sophisticated space robot ever built.
  • Handles gear as small as a toaster or as large as a refrigerator.
  • Only robot to have repaired itself in space.
  • About 400 km above Earth
  • 1,560 kg
  • 3.7 m tall

Quick facts on Dextre, the ISS's robotic handyman. (Credit: CSA)

How Dextre moves on the Station

This multi-talented robot can ride on the end of Canadarm2 to move from worksite to worksite, or be ferried on the Mobile Base System. Dextre can work almost anywhere on the ISS.

Smell that? Dextre's attachable "nose" sniffs out leaks of ammonia, a gas used in the Space Station's cooling system. Early detection of small leaks can help the ISS crew avoid unplanned spacewalks.

Special features

For eyes, Dextre has five cameras, including one inside each hand. In , the CSA will equip the robot with DOC, an enhanced vision system.

Dextre will use this portable tool to:

Dextre infographic: A closer look at the Canadian robotic handyman
Dextre infographic: A closer look at the Canadian robotic handyman - Text version

Dextre infographic: A closer look at the Canadian robotic handyman

  • Tool Changeout Mechanism
  • Power Data Grapple Fixture
  • Shoulder Joints
  • Elbow Joints
  • Wrist Joints
  • Camera, Light and Pan/Tilt Unit
  • Enhanced ORU (Orbital Replacement Unit) Temporary Platform
  • Latching End Effector
  • Tool Holster Assembly
  • Camera, Light and Pan/Tilt Unit
  • Body Roll Joint

A piece-by-piece look at Dextre, the most sophisticated space robot ever built. (Credit: CSA)

 Impacts on Earth

Canadian robots Canadarm2 and Dextre have led to the development of many technologies that benefit our lives here on the blue planet:

  • neuroArm, the world's first robot capable of performing brain surgery inside an MRI machine
  • IGAR, precision technology accelerating breast cancer diagnosis and treatment
  • Modus V, a robotic digital microscope set to transform the way surgery is performed in hospitals

Who controls Dextre?

The robot is operated by ground control teams at CSA headquarters and NASA.

Who built Dextre?

Dextre was built by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, based in Brampton, Ontario. The space robot was launched on board Space Shuttle Endeavour and installed on the ISS in 2008.

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