Canadian Space Agency

27 May 2011

10 years of Canada's space crane

In April, the Canadian space agency celebrated ten years of providing lifting technology for the International Space Station. Canadarm2 was launched to the International Space Station (ISS) on April 19 2001 aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. A larger, more robust successor to the Shuttle’s Canadarm, Canadarm2 has provided a full decade of flawless service as the Station’s sophisticated “construction crane,” having assembled the ISS module by module in space.

Canadarm2 has unloaded hundreds of tons of equipment and supplies ferried by the shuttle and assisted almost 100 spacewalks. Endeavour’s last flight later this month will mark Canadarm2’s 28th Shuttle mission. Additionally, the robotic arm performed two “cosmic catches” where it captured, docked and later released two unpiloted Japanese resupply ships (HTV-1 and HTV-2).

Built for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in Brampton, Ontario, by MDA, Canadarm2 was installed on the ISS by astronaut Chris Hadfield during the first spacewalk by a Canadian. He was assisted in this feat by NASA Astronaut Scott Parazynski. In 2006, Steve MacLean, former astronaut and current President of the Canadian Space Agency became the first Canadian ever to operate Canadarm2 in space. CSA astronauts Julie Payette and Robert Thirsk are the only other Canadians to have ever operated Canadarm2 in space. The robotic arm is routinely operated by flight controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Centre and the Canadian Space Agency’s headquarters in Saint-Hubert, Quebec.

Canadarm2’s role on the International Space Station will expand as the orbital lab nears completion: in addition to performing routine maintenance, the robotic arm will make more frequent cosmic catches. When the Space Shuttle retires, reusable commercial spacecraft, like SpaceX’s Dragon and Orbital’s Cygnus, will be used to bring supplies and equipment to the ISS. Canadarm2 will capture each of these visiting vehicles, as well as the Japanese HTV transport vessels. In late 2011 and early 2012, Canadarm2 will capture a series of 6 commercial spacecraft in just 7 months, beginning with the Dragon spacecraft, currently scheduled to arrive in October 2011.