Science & Technology

Canadarm2: Learn About Canada’s Contribution to the International Space Station

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Sep 12, 2019 • 3 min read

The International Space Station (ISS) is an incredible international achievement with contributions from many different countries. NASA astronauts have worked alongside their Russian, Japanese, Canadian, and European Space Agency counterparts to keep the orbiting laboratory running. One of the most vital pieces of equipment onboard the ISS is a Canadian robotic arm known as Canadarm2—which played an integral role in building and maintaining the ISS.



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What Is Canadarm2?

Canadarm2 is a Canadian-built robotic arm that assists in the modification and maintenance of the International Space Station. Canadarm2 assists in a variety of vital ISS activities and is an instrumental piece in continued station assembly and repairs. Some of the main tasks that Canadarm2 is used for include:

  • Help with ISS maintenance. The Canadarm2 is used to conduct regular maintenance checks and operations on the outside of the International Space Station.
  • Move supplies and astronauts. Canadarm2 can be used to assist astronauts in spacewalks as they maneuver outside of the confines of the orbiting laboratory.
  • Catch visiting vehicles. The Canadian robotic arm can be used to conduct maneuvers known as “cosmic catches,” where the robotic arm intercepts unpiloted space ships, like the SpaceD Dragon or the orbital ATK space freighter and guide them as they dock with the ISS.

Learn more about the ISS here.

How Was Canadarm2 Developed?

Canadarm2 is the successor to the original Canadarm system developed in the 1970s. Canadarm is the name given to a series of specially outfitted robotic arms designed by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and installed on NASA space shuttle orbiters. It was used to move cargo to and from the cargo bay of a space shuttle during shuttle missions to aid in the construction and repair of the ISS. Learn more about Canadarm here.

Canadarm2 followed in the footsteps of the original Canadarm system but was designed to be housed on the ISS itself instead of visiting space shuttles. The Canadarm 2 was developed by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, an engineering firm tasked by NASA and the Canadian Space Agency with building the station robotic arm.

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4 Major Components of Canadarm2

The Canadarm2 is technically a part of a larger robotic system known as the Mobile Servicing System (though sometimes “Canadarm 2” is used to describe the system as a whole). The MSS has four major components:

  1. The Space Station Remote Manipulator System (known as SSRMS or Canadarm2). The 57.7-foot long robotic manipulator arm that attaches at multiple points along the station’s main truss and assists in a variety of tasks.
  2. Mobile Remote Servicer Base System. The base system is a platform for the station robotic arms to anchor to. The base system moves along the station’s main truss on rails.
  3. Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (known as SPDM or Dextre or Canada Hand). The Dextre is a smaller robot arm that can attach to the Canadarm2, the Mobile Base System, or directly to the ISS.
  4. Latching End Effectors. Canadarm2 is designed to somewhat mimic a human arm with joints to have two “hands” on either end of it. Each hand is called a latching end effector, which is used to grab and manipulate the supplies, cargo, and astronauts that the Canadarm2 moves around the ISS.


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How Does Canadarm2 Work?

The Canadarm2 can move around the ISS and anchor onto a variety of power data grapple fixtures. These grapple fixtures hook up to one of the two end effectors and provide the Canadarm2 with power, data, video and a physical anchoring point. The station’s robotic arm is capable of “walking” around the ISS, moving from one anchor point to the next, albeit slowly. Canadarm2 is controlled by astronauts aboard the station or by the ground team at NASA or CSA.

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