The next Canadian robotic arm will ensure the smooth operation of the future lunar orbital station Gateway when it is uninhabited.
Artistic impression of the Canadarm3 that will be at Gateway Station.
The third generation of the Canadarm has entered the preliminary phase of its design with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) awarding a budget of $269 million to the Ontario aerospace technology company MDA, which oversees the project.
Canadarm3, scheduled for launch in 2027, is intended for the future Gateway space station, the first modules of which will be launched in 2024.< /p>
The cost of the entire project lasting about 24 years, from the conception of the arm to the end of its mission, is estimated at 1.9 billion dollars.
Artistic impression of the appearance of the future Gateway lunar station, where we can see Canadarm3, the Canadian intelligent robotic system.
In the last 40 years, the CSA has designed a first generation of robotic arm, which was installed on board each shuttle, then a second which was permanently installed on the International Space Station (ISS) at an altitude between 330 and 410 km from Earth.
American astronaut Stephen K. Robinson perched on the end of Canadarm2 during work on the ISS.
The third version will be sent about 1000 times further, in lunar orbit, 385,000 kilometers from Earth. This system cannot therefore be repaired on Earth, like the first, or in orbit, like the second.
Consisting of a large arm, a smaller more agile arm and a set of removable tools, the next Canadian robotic system will perform its own maintenance and repair itself using artificial intelligence. For example, he can change parts that no longer work. The small arm will be able to help repair the large arm if there should be problems, explains Richard Rembala, who is responsible for the project at MDA.
The lunar space station Gateway (artistic illustration).
Canadarm3 will also ensure the proper functioning of Gateway, since, unlike the ISS, there will be no ;permanent crew aboard the lunar station. Canadarm3 will inspect, maintain and repair the station if necessary.
It will only be inhabited 30 days, 60 days or sometimes 90 days a year. […] On the other hand, operations will continue permanently on the Gateway, affirms Stéphane Desjardins, project manager at the CSA. Canadarm3 will therefore perform a large part of the maintenance of the station.
To achieve its objectives, the robot will be equipped with several advanced technologies, such as 4K cameras, three-dimensional vision systems and highly developed software to support artificial intelligence, notes Mr. Desjardins.
“Canadarm3 will be half the size and half the weight of Canadarm2. It will weigh only around 800 kilograms and be 8.5 meters long, while the Canadarm2 weighs 1600 kilograms and is 17 meters long.
— Richard Rembala
In addition, his small arm will be equipped with tools that can transfer mission-critical equipment inside and outside the resort.
In addition, as is the case on the current ISS, the arm will be able to assist astronauts during spacewalks, move station modules and handle scientific experiment equipment.
The Canadarm3 will move from place to place on the station by alternately attaching its extremities, its hands, to terminals designed to provide power electricity and data transmission. They will also serve as a support for unused tools.
“The big arm will be able to move around the catwalk, much like a Slinky. He can release one end and switch to another. He will therefore be able to move around the footbridge carrying his tools to reach the desired location. »
— Richard Rembala
These terminals will allow the big and the small arm to carry out their tasks together.
If Canadarm3 is designed to operate autonomously, astronauts will be able to pilot it from the station, and flight controllers from Earth.
After this preliminary phase of design, MDA will build engineering models of the arm.
“We will subject these models to the conditions existing in lunar orbit. We will shake them the same way as during the launch. We will expose them to the level of radiation they will experience in space to ensure that their components do not fail. We'll test them in hot and cold temperatures as well as in a vacuum, to make sure our engineered design holds up and works perfectly. »
At the end of this stage, the MDA engineering team will draw their conclusions. You know, some things may not work exactly as we intended. We will then create another design model in which the problems noted during the tests will be corrected.
Orion spacecraft approaching the lunar space station Gateway (artistic illustration)
The Gateway station is one component of the Artemis program, a series of space exploration missions designed to return humans to the Moon and develop the technology needed for further trips to Mars.
The robotic arm is the CSA's contribution to the Artemis program piloted by the United States and in which the European Space Agency (ESA) also participates.
Through this collaboration, a Canadian astronaut will be able to participate in Artemis II, the first manned lunar mission since 1972. Canada will also be able to conduct scientific experiments and certain commercial activities from the station.
The first missions of the Artemis program:
- Artemis I, an uncrewed test flight of the Orion spacecraft scheduled for May 2022;
- Artemis II, a first manned test flight of Orion scheduled for launch in May 2024;
- Artemis III, a manned flight that will land humans on the lunar surface after 2025.
On subsequent missions, astronauts will dock Orion with the Gateway Lunar Station, which will be critical to sustainable lunar exploration, as visits to this station will serve as a model for future missions to Mars. From Gateway, astronauts will be able to venture to the surface of the Moon.
Artistic impression of NASA's Orion spacecraft in low Earth orbit.< /p>
Still within the framework of the Artemis program, Canada will also develop a lunar robot. During its mission, whose main objective will be to demonstrate its technological capabilities, it will take images and collect data from the surface of the Moon using at least two scientific instruments. In addition, the resistance of the rover will also be tested for an entire lunar night, which lasts approximately 14 Earth days.
The quotations from Richard Rembala and Stéphane Desjardins contained in this text are taken from interviews they gave to the journalist Gino Harel from the show The Light Years.