International Space Station news

ISS

First-ever autonomous operations for Canadian ISS robots Canadarm2 and Dextre

Credit: NASA

Since its installation on the International Space Station (ISS) in , Canadarm2 has performed hundreds of important tasks, including assembling the Station's modules, keeping the ISS in shipshape, and lending astronauts a hand during spacewalks.

Most of the time, the Station's iconic arm is operated by a joint team of robotics flight controllers working in tandem from Canadian Space Agency (CSA) headquarters in Saint-Hubert, Quebec, and NASA facilities in Houston. During cosmic catches of unpiloted vehicles, astronauts aboard the Station use one of two robotic workstations to control the 17-metre-long arm.

But in late , Canadarm2 powered up with almost no human help. Instead, the robotic arm's sequence of tasks unfolded under the guiding hand of MAC, the Mobile Servicing System Application Computer. This new software allowed Canadarm2 to operate autonomously – powering up, moving freely in open space, latching onto a grapple fixture, and powering down – during a first series of successful commissioning activities.

Over time, MAC will drive Canadarm2 during increasingly complex tasks. CSA engineers have also begun to test MAC with Dextre, using the software to allow the most sophisticated space robot ever built to grasp and release fixtures and proceed autonomously through a power cycle. More testing is planned to take place over the coming months.

The software was developed by the CSA and MDA, the Canadian company that built the original Canadarm and its ISS-based successor.

The technology and expertise behind MAC represents a groundbreaking advance for Canadian space robotics on the Station and beyond. The MAC project has developed a standardized scripting language that can be used to automate future robotic systems.

In addition to pursuing innovation 400 km above Earth, Canada will build on its legacy of excellence in space robotics 1000 times farther from home by contributing Canadarm3, an autonomous robotic system, to the Lunar Gateway as part of Canada's role in the next chapter of Moon exploration.

Canadian science equipment to cruise to ISS as Canadarm2 readies for duty

Credit: NASA

On , SpaceX's Dragon cargo ship will launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center atop a Falcon 9 rocket, headed for the International Space Station (ISS).

In a first for the cargo vehicle, Dragon will dock to the Station autonomously. Station crew previously used Canadarm2 to "catch" Dragon and berth it to one of the Station's eight ports.

Among its cargo, the resupply ship will be transporting science equipment for Canadian heart health study Vascular Aging:

  • Three Bio-Monitor smart shirts, part of a Canadian-made system to record astronauts' vital signs
  • Five glucose drinks and test kits

In the days following Dragon's arrival at the Station, robotics ground controllers will use Canadarm2 to extract the vehicle's unpressurized cargo: the NanoRacks Bishop Airlock, a "doorway" that expands possibilities for commercial activities in low Earth orbit.

Dragon is expected to remain docked to the ISS for about a month. Upon its return to Earth, the unpiloted ship will land in the Atlantic Ocean.

Coverage of the launch will be broadcast on NASA TV on , beginning at 10:45 a.m. ET.

Dragon's rendezvous and autonomous docking will also be broadcast on at 11:30 a.m. ET (docking scheduled for 1:30 p.m. ET).

Cosmic catch for Canadarm2 as Cygnus carries Canadian cargo to the International Space Station

Credit: NASA

On , Northrop Grumman's Cygnus cargo ship will blast off from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, headed for the International Space Station (ISS) – the orbiting science lab that has been continuously inhabited for nearly two decades.

Three days later, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy will use the Station's 17-metre-long robotic arm, Canadarm2, to grapple the unpiloted vehicle about 400 km above Earth.

Following the cosmic catch, robotics controllers working jointly from CSA headquarters and NASA in Houston will berth the ship to the ISS. It is expected to remain there until mid-December.

Among its thousands of kilograms of cargo, Cygnus will carry equipment for Canadian study Vascular Aging:

  • three Bio-Monitor smart shirts, part of a Canadian-made system to record astronauts' vital signs
  • four glucose drinks and test kits
  • two Bio-Monitor battery packs

Led by Dr. Richard Hughson, Vascular Aging is the third in a series of experiments designed to shed light on changes to astronauts' hearts and blood vessels caused by spending time in space.

Coverage of the launch will be broadcast on NASA TV on , beginning at 8:45 p.m. ET.

Capture operations will also be broadcast on , beginning at 3:45 a.m. ET (capture scheduled to take place around 5:20 a.m. ET).

Canadian robot Dextre to take centre stage in leak detection, refueling demo operations

Credit: NASA

It is shaping up to be a busy autumn for Dextre, Canada's multitalented robot on board the International Space Station (ISS).

In mid-September, robotics flight controllers will use the high-flying robot to continue the search for a small ammonia leak on the exterior of the ISS. Dextre will be outfitted with two Robotic External Leak Locators over two days of scanning operations. The pair of "noses" was installed on the Canadian Mobile Base System during a spacewalk, making them more easily accessible to the robotic ace.

Dextre will shift gears later in the season, turning to other specialized tools to demonstrate cryogenic refueling, a key ability that could help make space exploration more sustainable by extending the useful lifetimes of satellites and spacecraft.

As part of NASA's Robotic Refueling Mission 3, robotics flight controllers at CSA headquarters and NASA's Johnson Space Center will use Dextre to grasp and insert a fuel hose and perform a mock transfer of cryogenic fluids. These extremely cold liquids – such as methane or hydrogen – can be used as coolant or fuel.

Using a new suite of tools to demonstrate these precision techniques would be another notch on Dextre's belt after the space robot aced similar tests in .

Putting on the RiTS: Space Station crew installs last set of batteries, new "robot hotel"

Canadarm2 grips an external pallet of batteries as NASA astronaut Bob Behnken spacewalks on the International Space Station (ISS) in . (Credit: NASA)

On , NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy and Robert Behnken will venture outside the ISS to install batteries and a new holster for robotics tools used by Dextre, Canada's space handyman.

Canadarm2 will help astronauts make the swap by holding an external pallet close to the worksite. This will be the 231st spacewalk in Station history.

The installation of this final group of lithium-ion batteries concludes a process begun in to replace the Station's original nickel-hydrogen set.

Mission planners have also scheduled the installation of the Robotic Tool Stowage (RiTS), a protective storage unit for robotics tools. The RiTS will be installed on the Canadian Mobile Base System, where it will house a pair of Robotic External Leak Locators (RELL).

Robotics flight controllers have used Dextre, equipped with a RELL "nose," to sniff out ammonia, successfully pinpointing small leaks in the Station's cooling system. Detecting those leaks robotically avoids risky and time-consuming spacewalks for astronauts. The new RiTS unit will store the RELL tools externally, freeing up space inside the Station and allowing Dextre to deploy the robotic "noses" more quickly.

CSA astronaut Joshua Kutryk will guide the spacewalkers through their tasks from the Mission Control Center in Houston.

Live coverage will begin at 6 a.m. ET on NASA TV. The spacewalk is expected to begin at 7:35 a.m. ET and last up to 7 hours.

SpaceX mission to bring astronauts to International Space Station for first time

Credit: NASA

On , SpaceX will launch a crewed mission, known as Crew Dragon Demo-2, to the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will be on board the spacecraft as it docks autonomously to the Station. Shortly before Crew Dragon heads back to Earth, robotics controllers on the ground will use Canadarm2's cameras to inspect the exterior of the capsule.

Following a successful uncrewed test flight to the ISS in , this crewed mission aboard a commercially supplied vehicle is a major milestone in NASA's Commercial Crew Program.

Live coverage of launch (, 11:00 a.m. ET), docking (, 10:29 a.m. ET), as well as hatch opening and welcoming ceremony (, 12:45 p.m. ET) will be available on NASA TV.

The ISS will be visible above Canada on the evening of . The graphic below lists local viewing times. Using binoculars or a small telescope, it may be possible to view the Crew Dragon ship trailing the Station.

Text version of the local times when the Station will be visible

See the ISS fly over Canada on

Local times when the Station will be visible
Cities Local times
Vancouver 9:54 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Victoria 9:54 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Calgary 10:56 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Edmonton 10:56 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Regina 10:58 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Saskatoon 10:58 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Winnipeg 10:21 p.m. to 10:27 p.m.
Toronto 9:48 p.m. to 9:54 p.m.
Ottawa 9:48 p.m. to 9:54 p.m.
Montreal 9:49 p.m. to 9:54 p.m.
Quebec City 9:49 p.m. to 9:54 p.m.
Fredericton 10:50 p.m. to 10:54 p.m.
St. John's 9:45 p.m. to 9:52 p.m.
Charlottetown 10:51 p.m. to 10:54 p.m.
Halifax 10:51 p.m. to 10:54 p.m.

New health studies to benefit astronauts, life on Earth

Clouds – Earth as seen by David Saint-Jacques

Credit: CSA/NASA

The CSA is funding eight new scientific investigations to help mitigate health risks for future space travellers and help improve the wellbeing of people on Earth.

As a complement to Canadian science already underway on the International Space Station, each study uses one of three ground-based research approaches:

  • using databases or existing samples from previous space studies
    Researcher and institution Study topic
    Dr. Frédéric Pitre, Université de Montréal Analyzing Mars500 crew microbiomes using improved metagenomics
    Dr. Richard Hughson, University of Waterloo Mining data from previous CSA cardiovascular studies BP Reg and Vascular to test new hypotheses about astronauts' cardiovascular systems
  • using non-human organisms such as animals or cells as models for human biology
    Researcher and institution Study topic
    Dr. Tamara Franz-Odendaal, Mount Saint Vincent University Understanding bone loss with zebrafish larvae in a simulated microgravity environment
    Dr. Odette Laneuville, University of Ottawa Understanding shoulder overuse and preventing injuries in microgravity with mudskipper fish
    Dr. Svetlana V. Komarova, McGill University Studying bone loss associated with skeletal muscle changes and fluid shift in astronauts
    Dr. Yeni Yucel, Unity Health Toronto Using a research model to study space-related vision changes experienced by some astronauts
  • using space-like conditions to test human subjects
    Researcher and institution Study topic
    Dr. Laurence Harris, York University Self-motion under gravity: Changes to perception systems in human subjects on Earth subjected to varying levels of gravity
    Dr. Andrew Philip Blaber, Simon Fraser University Testing the use of artificial gravity as a countermeasure against common space-related disturbances of cardiovascular and cerebral responses

The investigations, which include the participation of researchers from Canadian institutions, were selected from proposals submitted to Announcements of Opportunity published by the CSA in . As with all research supported by the CSA, these studies will lead to a better understanding of human spaceflight risks while also contributing to health benefits here on Earth.

Canada's space industry to continue supporting Canadian robotics on the International Space Station

Canadarm2 and Dextre – David Saint-Jacques aboard the International Space Station

Credit: Canadian Space Agency/NASA

Today, the Government of Canada issued a new contract to MDA for the continuing operations and maintenance of the Mobile Servicing System, the CSA's robotics suite—comprised of Canadarm2, Dextre and the Mobile Base System—on the International Space Station (ISS). The contract, worth $190 million, will enable MDA to provide essential engineering and logistics support over the next four years.

The ISS is a test bed and stepping stone to the Moon and Mars. This investment is an opportunity for the Canadian space sector to maintain its international leadership in space robotics as Canada prepares for the next chapter of space exploration, the Lunar Gateway—the cornerstone of Canada's Space Strategy.

Canadian robots poised for cosmic catch, cargo installation as resupply ship heads to Station

Credit: NASA

On , SpaceX's Dragon cargo ship will blast off from Cape Canaveral aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, headed to the International Space Station (ISS).

Three days later, NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Andrew Morgan will use Canadarm2 to capture the unpiloted vehicle. Robotics flight controllers will then berth Dragon to the Station, where it is expected to remain for about a month.

Towards the end of March, robotics controllers working jointly from CSA headquarters and NASA's Johnson Space Center will use Canadian robot Dextre to unload Dragon's unpressurized trunk. The resupply mission will bring Bartolomeo, a new commercial science platform, to the Station. Dextre is scheduled to install it to the exterior of the ISS's Columbus module in .

Live coverage of Dragon's launch will begin on NASA TV on , at 11:30 p.m. ET.

Rendezvous and capture operations will also be broadcast on , at 5:30 a.m. ET (capture scheduled for 7 a.m. ET).

Canadarm2 gears up to catch Cygnus ship on a resupply run to International Space Station

Credit: NASA

On , Northrop Grumman's Cygnus cargo ship will launch from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, headed for the International Space Station (ISS).

Three days later, NASA astronauts Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir will use Canadarm2, the Station's 17-metre-long robotic arm, to capture the visiting vehicle by carefully aligning the arm's "hand" with a grappling target on Cygnus's exterior. Following the cosmic catch, robotics controllers will berth the ship to the Station. It is expected to remain at the ISS for about three months.

Cygnus's arrival closely follows the notable departure of its fellow Cygnus on . That mission marked the first time that the ground team working jointly from CSA headquarters and NASA in Houston, was solely responsible for releasing this type of unpiloted vehicle from the orbiting laboratory.

Coverage of the launch will be broadcast on NASA TV on , beginning at 2:45 p.m. ET.

Capture operations will also be broadcast on , beginning at 2:30 a.m. ET (capture scheduled to take place around 4:05 a.m. ET).

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