Astronaut’s Mission Is To Snatch A Dragon Without Crashing The Canadarm

by Elizabeth Howell on March 20, 2014

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The robotic Canadarm2 is routinely used to berth spacecraft to the International Space Station, such as SpaceX's Dragon. Credit: NASA

The robotic Canadarm2 is routinely used to berth spacecraft to the International Space Station, such as SpaceX’s Dragon. Credit: NASA

When there’s a Dragon spacecraft coming your way at the International Space Station, you’d better be ready to grapple it with a robotic arm. For if there’s a crash, you will face “a very bad day”, as astronaut David Saint-Jacques points out in this new video (also embedded below the jump).

That’s why the Canadian (along with European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen) was doing robotics training this month at the Canadian Space Agency headquarters near Montreal. The most terrifying thing for astronauts must be the limited view as they do delicate maneuvers with the multi-million dollar Canadarm2.

“All you’ve got, really, while you’re working, is this workstation,” Saint-Jacques said. “You’ve got a couple of camera views to work from. You’ve got your hand controllers to move the arm, and you’ve got some computer displays, and a bunch of switches here on the left.”

“That’s all you’ve got,” he added. “You’ve really got to think ahead: how you’re going to maneuver this arm without crashing into anything.”

The video is the latest in a training series by Mogensen, who will go to the International Space Station in 2015. Saint-Jacques — a fellow 2009 astronaut class selectee — has not been assigned to a flight yet (at least publicly).

The first Canadarm, which cost about $100 million in late 1970s dollars, flew on the second shuttle flight in 1981. Canadarm2 was constructed for space station construction in the 2000s, and is still used today for spacewalks.

Berthing spacecraft is reportedly not what it was originally designed for, but the robotic arm has proved an able tool to pick up the Dragon spacecraft and other visitors to the station.

Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques at the simulator used to train astronauts on Canadarm2, a robotic arm used on the International Space Station. The facility is located at the Canadian Space Agency near Montreal, Canada. Credit: Andreas Mogensen/YouTube (screenshot)

Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques at the simulator used to train astronauts on Canadarm2, a robotic arm used on the International Space Station. The facility is located at the Canadian Space Agency near Montreal, Canada. Credit: Andreas Mogensen/YouTube (screenshot)

About 

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

Olaf March 20, 2014 at 4:46 PM

Playing with Kerbal Space program made me aware of something that is obvious but no one realizes.

ISS is free floating, the moment you touch the dragon and move it, it effects the ISS too. The ISS will try to rotate or even change orbit slightly.

Because the ISs is around a big gravitational body, this rotation and changing orbit is not that big a deal. But around a lighter planet or moon or asteroid, and it means the different of slamming into it or getting ejected from orbit.

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