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STS-100: Canadarm2 takes flight

26 Apr
Canadarm2 catches a visiting SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

Canadarm2 catches a visiting SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule at the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

As part of a special two-part special looking at STS-100 and the installation of Canadarm2, I conducted interviews with the Canadian Space Agency Flight Controller Supervisor Mathieu Caron and Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield. Part one of the special with Mathieu Caron aired April 27, 2015 (listen to the segment here) and part two with Chris Hadfield aired on May 4, 2015 (listen to that segment here).

York Universe airs live every Monday at 9:00 p.m. ET (1:00 a.m. UTC, Tuesday) on Astronomy.FM – the voice of astronomy on the internet.


STS-100 was a flight of the Space Shuttle Endeavour from April 19-May 1, 2001 (11 days, 21 hours). The flight was commanded by Kent Rominger, piloted by Jeffrey Ashby, and carried five Mission Specialists: Chris Hadfield (CSA), John Phillips, Scott Parazynski, Umberto Guidoni (ESA), and Yuri Lonchakov (RKA).

It’s been suggested this flight was the pinnacle of Canada in space. And this is arguably true, though there have been several other significant Canadian missions to be sure: the launch of Alouette or Chris Hadfield commanding the ISS, to name only two possibilities. The point of this though is to highlight the importance of STS-100 to Canada and the international space community, rather than argue about which the ‘most’ important contribution is.

The primary goal of STS-100 was to deliver and install to the fledgling International Space Station the new robotic arm, Canadarm2. Along to head this effort was Canadian Space Agency Astronaut Chris Hadfield – and installing the next generation arm required two spacewalks for Hadfield and Parazynski. Hadfield’s EVA on STS-100 was also the first spacewalk in history for a Canadian.

In total, the pair spent 14 hours, 50 minutes ‘outside’ in order to accomplish the goal.

Chris Hadfield on the first Canadian spacewalk on April 22, 2001. (Credit: NASA)

Chris Hadfield on the first Canadian spacewalk on April 22, 2001. (Credit: NASA)

Canadarm2 is 17.6 m (58 feet) long and has seven powered joints. It weighs 1,800 kg and is capable of moving payloads up to 116,000 kg!

It can be controlled from on board the ISS, or remotely from robotics stations at mission control centres around the world, including the CSA’s John. H Chapman Space Centre just outside Montreal.


Canadarm2 was (of course) based on the design of the Space Shuttle Canadarm, first launched in 1981 on STS-2. Canadarm (1) was 15.2 m (50 feet) long. In all five Shuttle Canadarm’s were built, with a redesign in the 1990’s to increase the arms’ ability to move larger objects to support ISS construction (the strength was increased by an order of magnitude, going from 332.5 kg up to 3,293 kg).

Towards the end of STS-100 once Hadfield and Parazynski had completed its installation, Canadarm2 was powered up for the first time in space on April 28, 2001.

And Canadarm2’s first objective? Link up with the Shuttle Canadarm to return the new arms cargo palette to Endeavour’s cargo bay. It was a remarkable Canadian robotic handshake in space.

The Canadian Handshake: Canadarm and Canadarm2 connect in space for the first time on April 28, 2001. (Credit: NASA)

The Canadian Handshake: Canadarm and Canadarm2 connect in space for the first time on April 28, 2001. (Credit: NASA)

Since then, Canadarm2 has been invaluable in both the construction and operations of the ISS – including catching visiting cargo spacecraft and docking them to the station on a regular basis. It is not an exaggeration to say that the ISS would not have been able to have been constructed without Canadarm2.

Look back at STS-100 with the astronauts who flew the mission:

Canadarm2 is able to move itself around on the ISS by making use of either the Mobile Transporter (a rail structure that runs the length of the ISS) or by moving end-over-end, sort of like an inch-worm, and grappling Power Data Grapple Fixtures that provide a physical connection as well as electrical and data connectivity. With these two methods within arm’s reach, Canadarm2 is able to be work from any location along the ISS’s main truss.

Canadarm2 has also since been joined on the ISS by a second Canadian robotic handyman: DEXTRE, which arrived in March 2008 on STS-123 (read more about DEXTRE here).

With these innovations – and others – Canada is making a name for being a leader in space robotics, and STS-100 surely cemented that reputation.

Canadian space robots: DEXTRE catches a ride at the end of Canadarm2 on the ISS. (Credit: NASA)

Canadian space robots: DEXTRE catches a ride at the end of Canadarm2 on the ISS. (Credit: NASA)

Video of SpaceX Falcon 9 crashing and burning in the ocean is what progress looks like

18 Jan

I realize this might not be your first thought when watching the video clip, but it really is.

Those seven seconds of carnage were a great sign of success. That Falcon 9, about 10 minutes earlier on January 10th, was sitting on a launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The pad is 320km to the west of the barge. The barge is 100×300 feet, floating in the ocean.

The Falcon 9 launched, released the upper stage on it’s way to the International Space Station (which arrived flawlessly), and then the first stage managed to navigate itself to that barge.

That feat alone is pretty amazing.

The barge – all 30,000 sq feet of it – is TINY. Getting the Falcon 9 anywhere near it is impressive.

(Consider for comparison something with a landing envelope of say, 5 square kilometers (aka about 43,000,000 sq feet). In spaceflight terms, 5 sq km is an incredibly precise landing. 30,000 feet is 0.07% of 43,000,000 – or about 1500 times more precise.)

And then they almost landed it. If it hadn’t run out of that pesky hydraulic fluid used to control the aerodynamic fins – causing them to lock up – it probably would have made it, or at least come closer.

SpaceX will try again, and that’s what all this is about.

(Update: They’ll try again on the CRS6 launch, currently scheduled for Monday, April 13, 2015 @ 4:33 p.m. ET.)

Progress to make launching rockets more cost effective. Progress to find new ways to control rockets in flight. Progress to make them more efficient.

And one day, progress towards being able to fly a rocket to another world, land it, and then come back home with it — because remember, that is Elon Musk’s goal.

Video of that hard barge landing is exactly what progress looks like.

Read more here / watch a video clip of Jesse, Jerry, and yours truly chatting about it (and more!) on Sun News Network on Friday afternoon:

New Horizons, Dawn, SpaceX, long ISS stays are top space stories to watch in 2015

4 Jan

The year 2015 is poised to be a busy one for space exploration.

New Horizons arriving at Pluto is perhaps the biggest story in a number of years, and has certainly been a long time coming. Humanity exploring a new world (note I say world, not planet) in our own solar system is a notable event. New Horizons’ closest approach to Pluto will be on July 14, 2014 at 7:49:59 a.m. ET.

Ditto Dawn’s arrival at Ceres. The possibilities of what could be found there are very intriguing. Dawn is set to arrive in orbit of Ceres on March 6, 2015.

SpaceX makes the top three for me on account of what they’re going to be trying to accomplish this year in terms of reusable rockets (January 6 launch upcoming Tuesday is definitely one to watch). This is pushing new boundaries in terms of rocket technology. Watching the continued development of Dragon V2 is also significant.

Though along with SpaceX, I consider the ongoing expansion of private space flight truly noteworthy. It will reshape how we view space travel, and the number of people who can achieve it.

Long duration ISS stays are also something to watch, as much as anything because of how they fit into the puzzle that is humans one day reaching Mars.

There’s also a solar eclipse upcoming on March 20, 2015, and two lunar eclipses this year: April 4 and September 28, 2015.

And much much more.

Artist's concept of the New Horizons spacecraft during its planned encounter with Pluto and its moon, Charon. The craft's miniature cameras, radio science experiment, ultraviolet and infrared spectrometers and space plasma experiments will characterize the global geology and geomorphology of Pluto and Charon, map their surface compositions and temperatures, and examine Pluto's atmosphere in detail. The spacecraft's most prominent design feature is a nearly 2.1-meter dish antenna, through which it communicates with Earth from as far as 7.5 billion km away. Image Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

Artist’s concept of the New Horizons spacecraft during its planned encounter with Pluto and its moon, Charon. The craft’s miniature cameras, radio science experiment, ultraviolet and infrared spectrometers and space plasma experiments will characterize the global geology and geomorphology of Pluto and Charon, map their surface compositions and temperatures, and examine Pluto’s atmosphere in detail. The spacecraft’s most prominent design feature is a nearly 2.1-meter dish antenna, through which it communicates with Earth from as far as 7.5 billion km away. Image Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute

I can’t stop comparing these two images

4 Dec

I realize they don’t look identical, and I realize they’re taken in roughly the same place (so of course they look similar!) — but there’s something more to it than that.

One is Apollo 17 on the launch pad in December 1972, prior to it’s flight – and the last flight that took humans away from home.

The next is Orion on the pad this morning, prior to its first flight into space – part of a major step that will again take us away from home.

Apollo 17 sits atop a Saturn V on the launch pad in December 1972

Apollo 17 sits atop a Saturn V on the launch pad in December 1972

Orion sits atop a Delta IV Heavy on the launch pad in December 2004

Orion sits atop a Delta IV Heavy on the launch pad in December 2004

Just wait for Space Launch System!

feat-rockets