Canadian Robotic Prowess On Display Again as Canadarm2 Completes Another Spacecraft Capture

Canadarm spacecraft capture. Credit: NASA TV.

Early this morning, two US astronauts used the Canadarm2 on the International Space Station to capture an important resupply spacecraft loaded with new scientific equipment and supplies for the crew.

The capture and berthing of the Northrop Grumman Cygnus resupply spacecraft (NG-12) was supported by a Canadian Space Agency (CSA) mission controller team at CSA headquarters in Saint-Hubert, Quebec.

Canadian robotic know-how

The astronauts and CSA support team make it look easy, and seemingly routine. However, many hours of training by all involved are what make it look easy.

Canada’s robotic prowess is not something to take lightly. The evolution of Canadian skillsets, along with years of data, are what will make the next-generation Canadarm, Canadarm3, a reality.

That robotic technology will not only see further enhancements to the hardware itself, but the software algorithms will include artificial intelligence that will allow the robotic arms to work semi-autonomously and eventually autonomously. That capability will be needed as we move further out in the solar system including at the Lunar Gateway and the surface of the moon.

It should also be noted that Canada’s investment in type of robotic capability has also been used on Earth to help surgeons. But there’s also another use that’s not talked about as often. That’s the commercial uses of the technology in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) as part of the LEO economy.

The LEO economy is still in its very early stages. Beyond the International Space Station, it’s only in recent years that small satellites have become a force in LEO. Factor in satellite on-orbit servicing, debris removal, private space stations and also eventually LEO manufacturing and assembly facilities, and Canadian robotics could play a major role.

Tethers Unlimited in-space servicing concept artist rendering. Credit:
Tethers Unlimited in-space servicing concept artist rendering. Credit: Tethers Unlimited.

New scientific investigations

According to NASA here’s some of the new research that arrived on the NG-12 mission;

More Probing of Mysteries of the Universe
Stars, planets and the molecules of which they are made represent only less than 5 percent of the mass-energy content of the universe. The rest is dark matter. However, no one has ever seen this material or been able to study it directly. The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer – 02 (AMS-02) has been looking for evidence of this mysterious substance from the vantage point of the International Space Station since 2011. AMS consists of an international team from 16 countries under the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

NG-12 carries components needed for prolonging the operational life of AMS-02. In a series of spacewalks planned for later this year, astronauts will update the instrument, including cutting and reconnecting fluid lines in space for the first time.

Driving a Rover on the Ground from Space
Future missions to the Moon, Mars and other celestial bodies are likely to involve landing robotic explorers to “test the waters” on uncharted planets before sending humans. ANALOG-1, part of a European Space Agency initiative, tests communications, operations and control strategies for robots. Previous studies have shown that humans experience degraded sensorimotor functions in microgravity that could affect their operation of a robot. The space station makes it possible to investigate these issues under true microgravity conditions by having crew members in space control a rover on Earth. Maneuvers include selection, collection and storage of geologic samples with a multi-purpose robotic arm and navigating the rover along a defined path.

Testing Personal Protective Equipment for Astronauts
Astronauts need protection from exposure to radiation, especially as they travel to the Moon and Mars. Unpredictable solar particle events, for example, could deliver, in just a few hours, a radiation dose high enough to cause serious health problems. The AstroRad Vest investigation tests a garment that shields specific, radiation-sensitive organs, tissues and stem cell concentrations, which could reduce the risk. Astronauts wear the garment while performing daily tasks and provide feedback such as how easy it is to put on, how it fits and feels, and the range of motion it allows.

3D Printing with Recycled Materials
Made in Space Recycler (MIS Recycler) tests systems for reprocessing plastic into 3D printing filament for creating new items in microgravity. It recycles polymers into filament for use in the Additive Manufacturing Facility, a 3D printer operating on the orbiting laboratory since 2016. The investigation looks at which materials process most effectively into 3D printing filament and which ones can be reprocessed many times without degrading. Researchers plan to analyze samples printed in space after they return to Earth and compare them to samples printed similarly on the ground.

Faster, Cheaper Access to Space
NanoRacks-Craig-X FTP is a platform for several investigations, including a collaboration between Automobili Lamborghini and the Houston Methodist Research Institute that tests the performance of 3D-printed carbon fiber composites in the extreme environment of space. The materials are designed for use in aerospace applications, but results could replace lengthy and expensive carbon fiber manufacturing methods on Earth. In addition, the study may help improve the design of implantable devices for therapeutic drug delivery developed by Houston Methodist Research Institute.

Dinner, Fresh from the Oven
Everyone enjoys the aroma of fresh-baked cookies, even astronauts. On future long-duration space missions, fresh-baked food could have psychological and physiological benefits for crew members, providing them with a greater variety of more nutritious meals. Zero-G Oven examines heat transfer properties and the process of baking food in microgravity. It uses a specially-designed toaster-like oven with a top temperature of 363.3 degrees Celsius or 685 degrees Fahrenheit.

Studying the Effect of Dark and Light on Liver Health
Microgravity as a Disruptor Of The 12-hour Circatidal Clock (Rodent Research-14) studies how disruptions to daily light cycles affect human cells and organs. Recent research shows that genes associated with 12-hour light and dark phases, or the 12-hour molecular clock, also are associated with the most common form of human liver disease. Liver disease contributes to insulin resistance and diabetes. The 12-hour clock’s role in controlling proper liver function has major implications for maintaining human health. Results could provide insights into liver disease and reveal new therapies, including pharmaceuticals.

About Marc Boucher

Marc Boucher
Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive Inc. Boucher has 20 years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 27 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.