Robotics and On-Orbit Servicing

The Company's world-renowned space robotics and on-orbit servicing capabilities span more than 30 years, including 91 on-orbit servicing missions with the Space Shuttle program plus continuing robotic operations to build and maintain the International Space Station (ISS).

Robotics and On-Orbit Servicing

The Company is a mission prime contractor, with a proven heritage and suite of end-to-end system capabilities that are the foundation for new human spaceflight and unmanned missions to Low Earth Orbit, Geostationary Orbit, and beyond. In each mission area, the Company's solutions can support logistics delivery, satellite servicing, debris removal, relocation of assets, and infrastructure maintenance.

The Company extends the reach and capabilities of the human explorer with solutions such as the ISS Dextre that can now perform on-orbit infrastructure servicing operations previously only undertaken by Extravehicular Activity (EVA) astronauts. In the future, these technologies will support space infrastructure assembly, maintenance, and servicing, plus the robotic construction of human habitats. On-orbit servicing robotics lower the cost of critical space infrastructure maintenance by performing mundane and routine infrastructure servicing tasks, while freeing up the human explorer to perform the more challenging and cognitive activities.

The U.S Government has selected the Company's advanced robotic arm solution as the baseline for the NASA Restore and DARPA Geo robotic servicing programs that seek to use robotics to interact with geostationary satellites. Robotic satellite servicing can create a new paradigm for re-deploying or extending the operating life of on-orbit assets, as opposed to the prevailing “launch and leave” approach.

Together, these capabilities point to new opportunities in future space endeavours, in the form of EML-2, the Earth-Moon Libration Point 2, a spot in space near the far side of the moon that may play a key role as a stationary gateway for exploration missions to the moon, Mars and beyond. Current Company technology is a proven choice to build, maintain, and supply such a station with robotics, and support human crews en route to lunar or planetary missions.

The Company works extensively with international industrial and academic partners to serve a wide range of government agencies, while supporting a number of strategic partners for the new generation of commercial space missions plus emerging opportunities in human and robotic space exploration.

 
MECHANISMS / ACTUATORS: on-orbit mechanical and electromechanical solutions
Phoenix-PODsThe Company's Canadarm, ISS and Mars Rover/Lander robotics heritage programs have enabled the development of reliable, purpose-built mechanisms to support on-orbit actuation needs of both commercial and government customers. The Company has provided on-orbit mechanical and electromechanical solutions ranging from single actuator platforms to the 15 degree-of-freedom “Dextre” robot, whose two arms each operate in coordinated motion to perform delicate maintenance tasks on the ISS that previously ​could only be performed by astronauts. Our extensive experience in design, manufacturing, testing and integration of in-space actuators allows ​the Company to offer robust and efficient control products for articulated platforms on spacecraft and satellites. By leveraging our flight-proven robotic solutions, ​the Company is well positioned to support the increasing need for reliable, resource efficient mechanisms and actuators for a wide range of applications in spacecraft deployment and operation.
 
MANIPULATORS / TOOLS / INTERFACES: to augment reach, dexterity, and sensing functions
As a world leader in space manipulators, ​the Company is best known as provider of the Canadarm, Canadarm2, and "Dextre" robotic systems to the Space Shuttle and International Space Station (ISS) programs. In these applications, the Company maintains common and accessible interfaces in both hardware and software to enable follow-on tool development to augment reach, dexterity, and sensing functions. Critical to the Space Shuttle’s Return to Flight initiative, the Company developed the Inspection Boom Assembly to provide the Canadarm with increased reach for on-orbit inspection and repair of the Shuttle’s thermal protection system prior to vehicle re-entry. To support the servicing needs of the ISS, the Company developed the "Dextre" robot that can be picked up by Canadarm2 to perform dexterous tasks with high precision such as battery replacement and manipulating scientific payloads. The Company's system level approach to robotic solutions provides customers with adaptable platforms whose functions can be expanded as the need arises.
 
GRAPPLE FIXTURES / DOCKING FIXTURES: transfer interfaces for spacecraft visiting the ISS
​The Company offers a comprehensive product line of grapple fixture interfaces to accommodate mechanical, electrical, data, and video transfer needs of customer spacecraft that are handled by our in-space robotic manipulators. Flight proven for over 30 years with more than 150 grapple fixtures and related hardware accessories, our line of payload handling interfaces have been launched on numerous ISS elements and commercial resupply vehicles, and they can also be tailored for other customer-specific needs. Going forward, ​the Company is pursuing the next generation of robotic and grapple fixture interface with goals of minimizing integration complexity, reducing mass and volume, and offering a simplified solution to robotic compatibility. ​The Company envisions a future commercial and government Space Infrastructure that is modular, robotically maintainable and upgradable.
 
TELE-OPERATION / TELE-PILOT WORKSTATIONS: tele-operation of robotic systems
​The Company's technical proficiency in robotics and control system design is complemented by decades of mission operations support to the Space Shuttle and ISS programs. Our direct support to mission control operators and astronaut crew has provided a unique insight into the usability perspective of tele-operated robotics, garnering end-to-end expertise in understanding system needs from the end-user’s perspective. This experience was leveraged when ​the Company developed the Robotic Workstation for NASA, enabling crew tele-operation of the robotic systems deployed on the International Space Station. The Workstation utilizes a variety of control interfaces, joysticks, and LCD displays to allow astronauts to command and control the Canadarm2 manipulator from the Cupola module on ISS. Such human-machine interfaces were further developed into a supervisory ground segment for the autonomous Orbital Express robotic flight demonstration mission, as well as ground control of the ISS “Dextre” robot. To address the future needs of on-orbit tele-operation, ​the Company developed a tele-pilot ground testbed with enhanced situational awareness as part of the Next Generation Canadarm (NGC) program. The tele-pilot station was designed to support future in-space robotic applications such as satellite refueling and servicing, and was commissioned to operate the NGC robotic test-bed (1-G) in performing related satellite servicing operations.
 
SOFTWARE AND AVIONICS: all-in-one sensor packages and data processing devices
From the inaugural flight of the Canadarm to the on-orbit operations performed by the Space Station robotics today, ​the Company has provided the software and avionics required to safely and effectively operate those systems by both local crew tele-operations and via remote ground control. Leveraging our safety critical control software that is uniquely flight qualified over 30 years, ​the Company has also developed electronic packages to offer robust and efficient control of articulated platforms on spacecraft and satellites. Our extensive background in mission assurance and safety requirements positions ​the Company as an ideal provider of electronic and software solutions for motion and/or sensor packages, with expertise in both radiation tolerant and low temperature electronics solutions as well as COTS development. Designing optimal solutions to customer-specific needs, ​the Company has developed all-in-one sensor packages and data processing devices for use in applications ranging from rendezvous and proximity operations to planetary surface characterization. Next-generation space systems will require resource-efficient solutions to support the needs of both government and commercial organizations, and ​the Company's software and avionics capabilities are well suited to offer reliable products to meet these demands.
 
SIMULATIONS: dynamic modelling and simulation of robotic systems
From initial deployment, ​the Company has also provided continuous engineering and mission support services to NASA and CSA for the Space Shuttle and ISS robotics systems, ensuring successful continuing operations of all mission-critical tasks as assembly and maintenance of the ISS, plus servicing of the Hubble Space Telescope. Throughout this time, ​the Company has established strong technical expertise in the field of dynamic modelling and simulation of robotic systems, supplementing our leading-edge capabilities in control system design and developing analytic solutions to novel robotic topologies. To fully analyze all planned and contingency robotic procedures before each mission, in-house simulation programs have been developed and validated against 30+ years of flight data to assess dynamic loads, motion, and clearances associated with on-orbit robotic tasks, ensuring all mission activities are performed safely and within flight limits. ​The Company has extensive experience in supporting safety critical robotic operations in human-rated applications, and our comprehensive simulation and analysis approach has ensured the success and safety of all operations to date.
 
VISION SYSTEMS: a wide range of 2D and 3D vision systems for space and terrestrial applications
Orbital Express with MDA logoThe Company has developed a wide range of 2D and 3D vision systems for both in-space and terrestrial applications to provide customers with reliable and robust perception in dynamic and/or high latency situations. Our state-of-the-art vision systems have provided significant benefits to robotic operations, enabling autonomous, real-time guidance and navigation in changing environments such as free-flyer capture of on-orbit assets. Our 6th generation light weight, low power “golf-ball size” space cameras have both high resolution and high dynamic range. During the on-orbit demonstration of robotic servicing capabilities on the DARPA Orbital Express Mission, ​the Company's visual servo algorithms successfully enabled the robotic system to perform the world’s first autonomous free-flyer capture, as well as supporting satellite reconfiguration tasks such as battery and computer change-outs. In additional to visual servo algorithms, ​the Company has also developed and ground tested model-based pose estimation techniques with scanning LIDAR to provide relative navigation data for autonomous rendezvous. Going forward, our vision system solutions seek to extend the capabilities of on-orbit robotic servicing, leveraging our flight-proven algorithms and experience in safety-critical applications.

Hadfield behind the controls of Canadarm2
2:58
Credit: CSA

Dextre Completes Replacement of Failed Remote Power Control Module.
3:32
Credit: NASA

DARPA PODS
0:31
Credit: DARPA