Tag Archives: Canadian Space Agency

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)

Ukrainian dispute takes toll on space cooperation

5 Apr

A version of this article appeared on Saturday across the Sun Media chain.

Amid the ongoing dispute between Russia and the west over Ukrainian territory, the American government added their space agency to the list of government agencies prohibited from contacting Russian officials.

The International Space Station, which is the focus of NASA-Russian cooperation, is however exempt.

In a memo to employees, NASA Associate Administrator Michael O’Brien wrote, “This suspension includes NASA travel to Russia and visits by Russian government representatives to NASA facilities, bilateral meetings, email, and teleconferences or video conferences. At the present time, only operational International Space Station activities have been excepted.”

The internal memo was posted on the website NASAwatch.com

When asked for comment on the NASA-Russian relationship, the Canadian Space Agency provided the following statement: “While the Government views the current situation in the Ukraine with great concern, the Canadian Space Agency will continue to work with its Russian counterpart to ensure the safe and effective operation of the International Space Station.”

Retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield also offered his take on the impact of the international dispute on space agencies.

“Both Russia and the United States, and all international partners (including Canada,) have huge multifaceted programs going in all different areas at the same time.

“It would be great if everybody was always together on everything, but we surely aren’t. This isn’t the only area of dispute between nations. Canada and the U.S. have areas that we dispute all the time, and yet we cooperate on most things,” he told me in a conversation we had on March 21.

Currently, three Russian cosmonauts, two U.S. astronauts and one Japanese astronaut are living aboard the orbital outpost. The International Space Station orbits 400km above the surface of the Earth at a speed of 28,000km/h.

Hadfield continued to explain his wide perspective on the issue, “You remember that I used to intercept Soviet bombers in Canadian airspace in the late ‘80s (as a Canadian Air Force pilot), and in ‘95 I helped build the Russian space station (during Space Shuttle mission STS-74)”.

Hadfield has flown into space three times: in 1995, 2001, and most recently in 2012-2013.

His first two flights were aboard NASA’s Space Shuttle. His five month flight in ’12-13 was to the International Space Station, which utilized a Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft. His stint on board the station also included becoming the first Canadian to command the outpost in March 2013.

He also explained that the International Space Station program is not being driven by politics over a, “thousand-year-old dispute,” and called the orbiting laboratory, “a visible example of cooperation.”

In response to NASA’s decision to cut ties with Russian counterparts, Scott Pace, director of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute told Reuters, “If we want to express our opposition to their actions I hope that we would choose other instruments.”

The Canadian Space Agency got a winning lottery ticket

5 Dec

This article by Harrison Ruess also appeared on Sun News Network.

Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to go on a spacewalk, on STS-100 in April 2001

Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to go on a spacewalk, on STS-100 in April 2001

In an announcement on Monday, December 2 that didn’t garner much fanfare, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) may have won the lottery – or at least been handed a potentially winning ticket.

In the announcement, Industry Minister James Moore laid out the government’s response to the findings of the Emerson Report, also known as the Review of Aerospace and Space Programs and Policies led by former minister David Emerson.

There are five key action items the Government of Canada will now undertake, including the release of a five-year plan for Canada’s space program to be released next year. Four of those action items, while excellent goals, are however written in – let’s call it – less than concrete language.

Words like “establishing a space advisory board” and “examining opportunities for the private sector to support the CSA’s activities” are great.

But these words don’t necessarily lead to significant, measurable results.

One of the action items however is different.

“The government will double its support of the Space Technologies Development Program.”

That’s right.

You read it here first.

And no, I’m not being sarcastic.

The Space Technologies Development Program (STDP) is run by the CSA with a mandate to, essentially, invent new technology.

Canadarm and Canadarm2 in space

Canadarm and Canadarm2 in space

The STDP works to find solutions to never-before-encountered problems, like “how do we use a robot to survey the underside of a Space Shuttle while it’s in orbit” kind of thing. It works to create projects that enable space missions to be successful. It also works to support industrial capacity through developing new products, processes and know-how.

The program currently receives a paltry $10 million annually. With Monday’s announcement, it will jump to $20 million by 2015; modest still, but at least respectable considering the potential payoffs.

The STDP program is important in different ways.

First is the impact that space technology has on each of our lives, every day.

Technologies like sun glasses that are scratch resistant and provide UV protection, water filters used by the Red Cross in disaster areas or on your camping trip, sports bras and workout clothes that ‘wick’ away moisture, cell phone cameras, and infrared thermometers that go in your ear to take your body’s temperature are all direct descendants of the space program.

The list of space technologies that have been adapted to benefit our lives does, very literally, fill books.

A significant Canadian contribution is the Canadarm that flew aboard NASA’s Space Shuttles for 30 years, and now the newer Canadarm2 that is a permanent fixture on the International Space Station.

Technology from that robotic arm – that we designed and built, right here in Canada – has now been applied to a miniature version that is capable of performing delicate surgery while inside MRI machines, as the doctor safely operates it remotely from outside.

Canadian astronauts

Canadian astronauts

Today, Canadarm’s baby cousin is saving lives.

And in space, the next generation of the Canadarm is something called DEXTRE – a robotic handyman that can potentially repair and refuel satellites, which could be big business in the years to come.

Which brings us to the economic impact of space development.

Space agencies, of course, have their own employees. The CSA also has contractors for some of its projects.

But private industry is where, ultimately, the majority of jobs – and wealth – is created from investment in the space program.

This is due to the nature of the projects being undertaken by space agencies. They’re not ordinary projects with ordinary goals.

The projects are novel.

The goals are, pardon the pun, out of this world.

Only this ground-breaking work can spur true innovation and invention.

Canadian robot DEXTRE

Canadian robot DEXTRE

As a space agency solves problems – in partnership with private industry – new technologies are developed. Once the technology is developed, the private sector is able to utilize that knowledge to create new products and new ways of doing things – all while employing Canadians.

And that drives our economy.

In Canada the aerospace and space sectors employee more than 170,000 people in well-paying jobs.

It contributes more than $27 billion to our economy.

But the CSA only received about $400 million in funding in 2012-13. That’s less than 0.2% of the federal budget.

And in a world where budgets are tight and spurring the economy is a priority, to say that the space sector provides a strong return on investment is an understatement.

Finally, space exploration has significant meaning for our national identity.

From technological achievements like the Canadarm to the landing pads that touched down on the Moon during the Apollo-era – yes, part of Neil Armstrong’s lunar lander was built in Canada – we have certainly left our mark.

The feet on NASA's lunar landers were built in Canada

The feet on NASA’s lunar landers were built in Canada

But ‘our mark’ isn’t just historical. It’s happening today, too.

Canadians built parts of rovers that are, as you read this, driving around on the surface of Mars. We launched satellites the help humanity to better understand how the weather works. We were one of the first nations to launch telecommunications satellites – and continue to be a global leader in this field.

And not to be overlooked, recently retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is arguably now the most famous astronaut since Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon in 1969.

We’re good at this stuff.

It drives our economy.

It inspires young and old alike.

And while this may seem like an a bit of an obscure announcement – doubling the funding of a program you’re probably never heard of – thanks to Mr. Moore, the CSA may now have the winning ticket – because who knows what the next invention that changes the world will be.

Though one thing is certain: today there is a better chance that it will be invented right here, at home.

Harrison Ruess on Twitter: @HarrisonRuess

The Emerson Report’s eight recommendations were:

Recommendation 1: The government explicitly recognize the importance of space technologies and capacity to national security, economic prosperity, and sustainable growth, and the Minister of Industry bring 10-year, 5-year, and annual government-wide priorities for the Canadian Space Program to Cabinet for discussion and approval each spring.

Recommendation 2: The government establish a Canadian Space Advisory Council, reporting to the Minister of Industry, with membership from industry, the research and academic communities, the provinces and territories, and federal departments and agencies.

Recommendation 3: A deputy minister-level Space Program Management Board be created to coordinate federal space activities, project-specific arrangements be put in place to ensure disciplined project management, and all agencies and departments with a role in the Canadian Space Program be required to report on how they are implementing priorities set by Cabinet.

Recommendation 4: The Canadian Space Agency’s core funding be stabilized, in real dollar terms, for a 10-year period; major space projects and initiatives be funded from multiple sources, both within and beyond the federal government; and increased international cooperation be pursued as a way of sharing the costs and rewards of major space projects and initiatives.

Recommendation 5: The scope of space projects, project timelines, and performance requirements be finalized as early as possible in the project definition phase.

Recommendation 6: Space asset and service procurement processes be competitive in nature and proposals be assessed on the basis of their price, responsiveness to scoped requirements, and industrial and technological value for the Canadian space sector.

Recommendation 7: Total funding for the Canadian Space Agency’s technology development programs be raised by $10 million per year for each of the next three years and be maintained at that level.

Recommendation 8: Where costs are modest and there is no risk to public safety, the government create conditions conducive to the expansion of space-related commercial activity.



Happy 15th birthday Space Station!

19 Nov

Sing it with me: Happy birthday, ISS!

On November 20, 1998 the International Space Station (ISS) was born with the launch of the Zarya module from Baikonur Cosmodrome Site 81 in Kazakhstan. Zarya is Russian for ‘dawn’ and it was given this name to signify the dawn of new international cooperation on the ISS project.

A couple short days later on December 4, 1998 the Space Shuttle Endeavour launched from Florida on mission STS-88 with the primary goal of connecting its cargo – the Unity module (Node 1) – to Zarya. On December 5 Unity and Zarya were connected, using the Shuttle’s Canadarm. On December 10, 1998 the hatch between Unity and Zarya was opened, and for the first time astronauts floated aboard the ISS. STS-88 also included three spacewalks to connect power systems between the two modules.

This first piece of construction was historically significant, though it was only the beginning of ISS construction. And it would be nearly two years before anyone could live up there.

In all, ISS construction required more than 25 Space Shuttle flights, some 150 spacewalks – adding up to more than 1000 hours of spacewalking!

In July 2000 the third component of the ISS launched from Russia, the Zvezda (Russian for ‘star’) Service Module. It was controlled remotely and docked with the ISS without any human presence aboard. On September 11, 2000 during Space Shuttle flight STS-106 astronauts on a spacewalk made the final connections to activate the module.

ISS construction during STS-116 in December 2006

ISS construction during STS-116 in December 2006

With Zvezda in place, the first crew on Expedition 1 arrived on November 2, 2000 and humans have been living aboard ever since – a record 13+ years. The previous record, held by Russian cosmonauts aboard Mir, was just less than 10 years (3,634 days).

STS-100 in April 2001 saw the installation of the ISS Robotic Arm – Canadarm2 – by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield. This marked the major contribution to the ISS by the Canadian Space Agency, and I have since heard Hadfield brag that ‘Canadians built the ISS’, as Canadarm2 was vital to ISS construction as modules arrived from Earth.

Major construction of the ISS continued until STS-133 in March 2011, when NASA installed their last “room” – the Permanent Multipurpose Module, which is generally used for storage. Though additional components are continually being added or upgraded on the ISS, and this is expected to continue for years to come, the ISS is generally considered to have been ‘completed’ in 2011.

The ISS is currently funded up until 2020, though there are discussions it could remain functional and useful (and funded) up until 2028. Considering some of the historical hurdles that the ISS had to overcome (least of which was the Columbia disaster in 2003) just to make it this far, I am optimistic it still has a bright future.

Besides the unique research being done aboard the ISS everyday – it is after all the only laboratory that enjoys the perk of microgravity – there is speculation that the ISS could be used as a launching point for future missions to the Moon, asteroids, or even Mars.

It’s a remarkable example of human ingenuity and cooperation, as the ISS is generally considered the largest and most complicated piece of equipment humanity has ever built. Weighing in at 450,000 kg (just less than one million pounds), travelling 27,600 km/h, 400 km straight up, and the size of a football field, it is an amazing accomplishment.

Join in the worldwide celebration of the ISS 15th birthday by “waving” to the ISS and using the Twitter hashtag #ISS15.

I look forward to writing about the ISS, and its story of cooperation, achievement, and success for many years to come.

A brief photo history of the ISS:

Zarya Module (1998)

Zarya Module (1998)

Zarya (left) and Unity (1998)

Zarya (left) and Unity (1998)

Top to bottom: Unity, Zarya, Zvezda (2000)

Top to bottom: Unity, Zarya, Zvezda (2000)

US Solar Panels installed in 2000

US Solar Panels installed in 2000

Canadarm2 (2001)

Canadarm2 (2001)

The ISS in August 2005

The ISS in August 2005

The ISS in February 2008

The ISS in February 2008

The 'complete' ISS in 2011

The ‘complete’ ISS in 2011