Canada's main contribution to the US Space Shuttle program has been the Canadian Space Agency robotic manipulator arms, Canadarm and Canadarm2.
Also called the Space Station Remote Manipulator System, the second-generation Canadarm2 helped build the International Space Station, and has been used there to support astronauts working in space, move equipment and supplies, perform maintenance, and manipulate large payloads.
The CSA has unveiled its third-generation Canadarm prototypes, known as the Next-Generation Canadarm (NGC) project. It consists of four robotic elements -- the Large Canadarm, Small Canadarm, Proximity Operations Systems Testbed, and Semi-Autonomous Docking System -- and the Missions Operations Station. The testbed comprises two industrial robotic systems that will simulate bringing two moving spacecraft within a few meters of each other. The mission operations station allows all of the NGC systems to be operated remotely. Combined, all five form a facility the CSA says will help it test and develop new mission concepts and hardware.
Click on the image below to check out the evolution of the Canadarm.
The NGC Large Canadarm is a 15m robotic arm that fits inside a minivan when its segments are telescoped together. Although its reach is as long as Canadarm2's, it is lighter and folds up more compactly to fit on future, smaller spacecraft. It will be used on Earth as a testbed to simulate arm deployment during tasks such as capturing and docking spacecraft for refueling. (Source: NASA)
With the photos stacked up like that, it's pretty incredible to see how far the space arm has come in terms of form, functionality, and in particular, size. Specifically, it strikes me as to how large the robotic manipulators are when viewed in the first slide in some sort of facility on earth vs. when they are viewed within the context of the vastness of outer space. Cool slide show.
Beth, while checking out the latest, NG Canadarm, I was looking at all the cool historical space photos. Then I started reading the caption data and realized that Canadarm, in one form or another, had been part of so many key historical events in space. That's how the idea for this slideshow was born.
Jenn, Lou is right--the arms are designed to work in zero-G environments, and are too heavy to do any lifting in Earth's 1G. "Lightweight" refers to the new NG Small Canadarm, the one that will do repairing and refueling of satellites in space.
The first image of the slide show looks like the arm being tested / demonstrated. I believe the motors that move the arms are actually quite small. If I remember correctly, the arm can't really support itself in a 1-G gravity field.
Are those blue units part of the supporting rig, air-cushion supports that permit the arm to move freely in a horizontal plane?
Ann, The end effector used to grab hardware and spacecraft is not what normally comes to mind when one thinks of "robotic" arms (a typical mechanical gripper). Do you kno how the 3-wire snare used on all of the Canadarms came to be the standard for US space operations?
TJ, the blue supports in the first photo weren't identified. I would think that the answer to your question about the end effector's history is available on the web. The Canadian Space Agency's website is pretty extensive, and there's also this source: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com
Ann, this slide show brings back lots of memories. One of my last aerospace projects was working on the Canadarm2. I was with a company involved with supporting the software used to control the arm. I was at their plant and got to touch one of the shuttle arms while it was being refurbished on the ground. That was back in 1992, by the way.
On thing that was interesting is the genesis of the companies involved. I was doing a project for Spar Aerospace. MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. was a subcontractor we also worked with. Now Spar is part of MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. It is funny how the consolidation in the industry happens.
Nice slide show, Ann. Since you have covered tons of stories regarding robotics, I'm curious as to how Canada stacks up against the robotics that are getting developed here in the U.S., particularly by the military. Is Canada a contender?
Rob, I haven't seen any robotics research coming from Canada except for the Canadarm. OTOH, the Canadarm has been a massive, 30-year project commanding a lot of resources and many, many different technologies. It's also been vital to the functioning of both the shuttle and the space station.
Ann, thanks for a great slideshow. It is both amazing and a tribute to all the engineers and technicians that brought this project to fruition. A 30 year run of the basic arm and improvements made during the long deployment make this an exceptional feat. I'm sure the new NGC will be equally impressive.
Rob, the Canadarm was designed to work in a weightless, zero-G environment, as we discussed below regarding Lou's comment. So the only "crossover" apps would be others in space, since the arms are too heavy to operate in Earth's 1G.
Ann, if you mean Mcdonnel Douglas, then the answer is no. One thing that was nice at the MacDonald Dettwiler facility in Vancouver was that Friday's were beer days. At the end of the day everyone would get together in the cafeteria and the beer cooler would be unlocked. There was a great selection of good Canadian beers and we would all have two or three and socialize. It was a lot of fun.
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