Milestone-Proposal:The Space Shuttle Remote Manipulator System

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Docket #:2015-07

This is a draft proposal, that has not yet been submitted. To submit this proposal, click on the edit button in toolbar above, indicated by an icon displaying a pencil on paper. At the bottom of the form, check the box that says "Submit this proposal to the IEEE History Committee for review. Only check this when the proposal is finished" and save the page.

To the proposer’s knowledge, is this achievement subject to litigation? No

Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old? Yes

Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s designated fields as defined by IEEE Bylaw I-104.11, namely: Engineering, Computer Sciences and Information Technology, Physical Sciences, Biological and Medical Sciences, Mathematics, Technical Communications, Education, Management, and Law and Policy. Yes

Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity? Yes

Was it of at least regional importance? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony? Yes

Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated? Yes

Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an IEEE Milestone? Yes

Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:


Title of the proposed milestone:

The Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (Canadarm), 1981

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

On 11 April 1981, NASA formally accepted the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (SRMS) or Canadarm developed by SPAR Aerospace (now MDA Robotics) and the National Research Council of Canada. By providing the means to manipulate and transfer heavy payloads, support astronauts working outside, and conduct inspections and repairs, the SRMS revolutionized manned spaceflight and played a key role in the Shuttle program.

(62 words)

200-250 word abstract describing the significance of the technical achievement being proposed, the person(s) involved, historical context, humanitarian and social impact, as well as any possible controversies the advocate might need to review.

IEEE technical societies and technical councils within whose fields of interest the Milestone proposal resides.

In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?


IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):

Unit: IEEE Canada
Senior Officer Name: Rob Anderson

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

Unit: IEEE Canada
Senior Officer Name: Rob Anderson

IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):

IEEE Section: Toronto Section
IEEE Section Chair name: Maryam Davoudpour

Milestone proposer(s):

Proposer name: David G Michelson
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates in decimal form of the intended milestone plaque site(s):

9445 Airport Rd, Brampton, ON L6S 4J3

Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.

Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need. The intended site is the home of the Division that developed the Canadarm.

Are the original buildings extant?

The space robotics group began operations at 1235 Ormont Drive in Weston Ontario. On the 6 January 1992, the group relocated to 9445 Airport Road in Brampton, Ontario.

Details of the plaque mounting:

The plaque will be mounted on a stand in the reception area in the vicinity of other awards and mementos that the division has received, including flags that have flown in space, citations from NASA and more recently a Hall of Fame award for our neuroArm project.

How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?

The reception area is the most accessible indoor portion of the facility and is seen by all visitors to the facility. Casual visitors can view the plaque and other awards and mementos without requiring a security badge.

Who is the present owner of the site(s)?

MacDonald Dettwiler & Associates, Canada's leading space engineering firm, has leased the site since they completed acquisition of SPAR Space and Advanced Robotics Division on 10 May 1999.

What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)? If personal names are included in citation, include justification here. (see section 6 of Milestone Guidelines)

The Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (SRMS) or Canadarm was a joint venture between the governments of the United States and Canada that supplied NASA's Space Shuttle program with a robotic arm for the deployment/retrieval of space hardware from the payload bay of the shuttle orbiter.

The Canadian proposal to design and build a robot arm was based on the efforts of DSMA Atcon, a small Canadian firm, to develop a robot arm used to load fuel into a nuclear reactor. Following briefings by NASA on the requirements for the SRMS, DSMA Atcon collaborated with SPAR, CAE Electronic and RCA (later SPAR Montreal) to draft a formal proposal.

In July 1975, SPAR Aerospace was appointed the prime subcontractor to the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) for the Design, Development, Testing and Evaluation (DDT&E) of the manipulator arm system that the Canadian government would supply to NASA.

In April 1981, the first SRMS was delivered to NASA at a cost of approximately $108 million to the Canadian government. The SRMS first flew in November 12, 1981 on STS-2, the second flight of Columbia. NASA subsequently ordered 4 additional Canadarms, one of which was lost in the Challenger accident.

During its lifetime, the SRMS demonstrated extraordinary adaptability and success in a variety of applications ranging from satellite recovery and satellite servicing (including several high-profile Hubble Space Telescope servicing missions) to extravehicular activity support and spacecraft inspection. Its success guaranteed that Canada, Europe and Japan would pursue second-generation remote manipulator system projects for the International Space Station.

Journal papers prepared by the National Research Council of Canada and SPAR Aerospace [1] [2] capture the significance of this pioneering work from a contemporary perspective for a highly technical audience. The first paper focuses on the design and ground-based testing of the arm. The second paper focuses on space-based testing and operational achievements from its first flight aboard STS-2 in November 1981 until Mission 51-I in August 1985.

Retrospective articles prepared by the Canadian Space Agency [3] and NASA [4] capture the significance of this pioneering work for a more general audience.

What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?

The SRMS was designed to manipulate large payloads, ranging from inspection tools to astronauts to satellites, in the vicinity of the Shuttle cargo bay. It was conceived as a robotic arm consisting of a shoulder, elbow and wrist joint separated by an upper and lower arm boom giving it a total of six degrees-of-freedom (shoulder pitch and yaw, elbow pitch and wrist pitch, yaw, and roll). It is divided into mechanical, electrical, thermal, displays and controls, software, computer, and vision subsystems.

Approximately 15 metres long and weighing approximately 431 kg, the SRMS was capable of manoeuvring payloads of up to 14,515 kg at a rate of .06 m/sec with a maximum contingency operation payload weight of 265,810 kg. The SRMS was incapable of supporting its own weight on the ground and had to be supported by specialized ground handling equipment during acceptance testing and shipment.

Under unloaded conditions, the SRMS could achieve a maximum translational rate of 0.6 m/sec. While the SRMS could handle very heavy payloads, the computerized control system could also achieve a positional accuracy of +/- 5.0 cm and +/- 1.0-degree of a pre-programmed target zone at the previously mentioned rates and load conditions. Astronauts viewing images from TV cameras mounted at the elbow and wrist could use hand controllers to achieve similar accuracy.

There are important physical differences between spaceborne systems and their terrestrial counterparts that arise from operation in free fall, in a vacuum, and in a harsh thermal environment, and the need to minimize mass. At the outset, it was clear that realizing a relatively lightweight but durable system that would satisfy difficult mechanical and reliability specifications in the harsh space environment would present significant challenges.

When development of the SRMS began in 1975, designers had virtually no prior practice or experience to draw from. By 1994, AIAA was able to publish a 500-page contributed volume that provided important insights into the challenges faced and lessons learned based upon almost 20 years of both design and operational experience [5].

Significant accomplishments of the SRMS program included development of: 1) structural models to support design of the SRMS structure given the challenging weight restrictions, 2) a vision subsystem to permit precise manual control given the challenging accuracy requirements, and 3) an end effector that could effectively grapple cooperative but massive and possibly unbalanced targets.

The SRMS was designed to have a life of ten years or 100 missions. During the course of the 30-year Shuttle program, no SRMS failed in flight or failed to achieve a mission objective.

What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

The SRMS was not the first robotic arm to be used in a space environment. The Surveyor landers sent to the moon in 1966-68 and the Viking landers sent to Mars in 1976 incorporated robotic arms for testing soil mechanics, digging trenches, and scooping soil samples.

However, the SRMS was the first space robotic arm to be designed and used for on-orbit servicing tasks such as docking, berthing, refuelling, repairing, upgrading, transporting, rescuing, and orbital debris removal. Its extraordinary adaptability and success in performing such tasks are almost unprecedented for a first-generation system. The SRMS effectively rendered otherwise successful contemporary systems intended to support such tasks, including the much anticipated Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU), redundant and unnecessary.

The experience gained and lessons learned from the SRMS (Canadarm) prepared the way for follow-on space manipulator projects such as Canada's Special Purpose Dextrous Manipulator (SPDM or Dextre) and Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS or Canadarm 2), the Japanese Experiment Module Remote Manipulator System (JEMRMS), the European Robotic Arm (ERA), and Germany's Robot Technology Experiment (ROTEX) and Robotics Component Verification on the ISS experiment (ROKVISS) [6] [7] .

Supporting texts and citations to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or chapters in scholarly books. 'Scholarly' is defined as peer-reviewed, with references, and published. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article. All supporting materials must be in English, or accompanied by an English translation.

[1] B. A. Aikenhead, R. G. Danieli and F. M. Davis, "Canadarm and the space shuttle," Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology A, vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 126-132, Apr.-June 1983.

[2] S. S. Sachdev, "Canadarm - a review of its flights," Journal of Vacuum Science & Technology A, vol. 4, no. 3, pp. 268-272, May.-June 1986.

[3] Canadarm - Historic First Moves, Canadian Space Agency, 7 Nov. 2011. [Online]. Available: 7 Nov 2011

[4] "Space Shuttle Canadarm Robotic Arm Marks 25 Years in Space, NASA, 9 Nov,. 2006. [Online]. Available:

[5] S. B. Skaar and C. F. Ruoff, Eds., "Teleoperation and Robotics in Space," Washington, DC: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 1994, 493, pp.

[6] R. Rembala and C. Ower, "Robotic assembly and maintenance of future space stations based on the ISS mission operations experience," Acta Astronautica, vol. 65, pp. 912–920, 2009.

[7] A. Flores-Abad, O. Ma, K. Pham, and S. Ulrich, "A review of space robotics technologies for on-orbit servicing," Progress in Aerospace Sciences, vol. 68, pp. 1-26, 2014.

Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.

Please email a jpeg or PDF a letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property, and a letter (or forwarded email) from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application to with the subject line "Attention: Milestone Administrator." Note that there are multiple texts of the letter depending on whether an IEEE organizational unit other than the section will be paying for the plaque(s).

Please recommend reviewers by emailing their names and email addresses to Please include the docket number and brief title of your proposal in the subject line of all emails.