MRO Magazine

Next version of Canadarm to have its own tool belt for delicate maintenance of Space Station

Brampton, ON -- Nov. 21, 2001 -- Twenty years ago this month, the world-famous Canadarm was first launched on-board...

Brampton, ON — Nov. 21, 2001 — Twenty years ago this month, the world-famous Canadarm was first launched on-board the space shuttle Columbia. This pioneering technology, developed by MD Robotics, established Canada as a world leader in space robotics. The company is a subsidiary of MacDonald Dettwiler & Associates of Brampton, Ont.

For the past 20 years, the Canadarm has been recognized as an icon of Canadian innovation and technology and a highly regarded, key element in the installation and maintenance of NASA’s Space Shuttle program.

The Canadarm has performed on-orbit tasks well beyond its original design specifications. It has proven most valuable in the retrieval of satellites and is an essential component in the assembly and future maintenance of the International Space Station.

Originally designed for a 10-year life, engineers at MD Robotics have incorporated significant design changes and upgrades that will see the Canadarm continue to operate for another 20 years. The Government of Canada’s original $108-million investment has resulted in excess of $700 million in export sales to the United States, Europe and Japan.


Since its inaugural flight on STS-2 in 1981, the Canadarm technology has evolved and a new generation robotic arm has emerged — Canadarm2. Earlier in 2001, Canadarm2 was launched on STS-100. Both Canadarm and Canadarm2 will be vital to the assembly and maintenance of the Space Station.

Mag Iskander, vice-president and general manager of MD Robotics, said the company is in the final stages of completing a revolutionary new robotic system, the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator or SPDM. The SPDM, to be launched in 2003/2004, is a 3-1/2 metre tall, dual-armed robot designed to perform delicate maintenance and servicing tasks on the Space Station; the SPDM even comes equipped with its own tool belt.

The SPDM is a complicated “hand” that will go on the end of the Canadarm2. It has sensors that will let astronauts “feel” what it is touching. It also has lights, a video camera and four tool holders. Using the hand for installations and repairs means astronauts won’t have to spend as much time “outdoors” on dangerous space walks.

By Bill Roebuck, Editor