When the Canadarm2 was built engineers made sure that it could get software updates even though it designed almost 20 years ago using what we would now consider outdated hardware.
It turns out that foresight was well thought out. This past week when confronted with a communication problem between components on the Canadarm2, in this case, the newly installed Latching End Effector (LEE), or robotic hand, and the Canadarm2’s communication system, engineers worked overtime to come up a solution.
At first they thought they would have to remove the newly installed LEE and replace it with the one they had just removed. But engineers at the Canadian Space Agency and MDA determined a software patch might do the trick.
In determining the solution, they tested identical software on backup systems at MDA’s Brampton facility to see if they could recreate the communication problem. Sure enough, they succeeded. Knowing exactly how the problem came about led them to write the software patch which they tested, once again, on the backup ground systems, and it worked. They then approached International Space Station (ISS) managers and pitched the solution. They received the go ahead to continue the work and refine the software patch which will be applied in the coming weeks on-orbit.
In the meantime, this solution meant an extra spacewalk would not be needed. That may seem trivial, but in fact isn’t. While astronauts and mission planners make spacewalks look routine and safe, they are not. Every spacewalk comes with risks. Astronauts love doing spacewalks but they understand there is additional risks in being exposed to the harsh environment of space. This is one of the reasons Canada’s robotic contribution is so important to the ISS. The Mobile Base System, Canadarm2, and Dextre perform outside station operations freeing up astronauts so they can focus more time on doing science experiments inside the relative safety of the ISS.
Below CSA expert Ken Podwalski describes how the software solution came to be.