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)

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