Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Confusion Over the Canadarm?

Canadarm as viewed during STS-116.
According to the July 19th, 2011 Postmedia News article "Arm-wrestling over Canadarm as tourist draw" there is no certainty that a complete example of the iconic Canadian contribution to the just completed US space shuttle program will ever end up on Canadian soil in a Canadian museum.

In other words, a Canadarm might never return to Canada.Why would Postmedia News say this? Don't Canadians deserve a Canadarm of our own?

The article quotes Canadian Space Agency (CSA) spokesperson Carole Duval as stating that, of the three remaining shuttles, only Atlantis has a Canadarm that can be acquired, since one arm is being held by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for observation and the other has already been changed into an orbital extension boom on the International Space Station (ISS).

Earlier reports have indicated that the Canadarm from the shuttle Endeavour would end up at a Canadian museum, most likely the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa.

According to the November 17th, 2010 article posted on the NASA: Spaceflight Now website titled "Discovery's retirement plans provide insight into the fate of the robotic arms," Endeavour was scheduled, upon completion of her final mission, to "have her SRMS (the "shuttle remote manipulator system" which is the official name for the Canadarm) removed and sent back to Canada for display in Canada as recognition for their integral role in the space shuttle program."

However, the Endeavour orbiter boom sensor system (OBSS) component of the Canadarm was to remain aboard the ISS as an extension arm for the ISS Canadarm 2.
A graphic showing how the OBSS attaches to the Canadarm to survey the shuttle heat shields.
The OBSS is simply a 50-foot boom carried on board the shuttles, which can be grappled by the Canadarm and serves as an extension of the arm, doubling its length to a combined total of 100 feet (30 m). The OBSS was used to inspect the shuttles in orbit for heat shield damage that could jeopardize the shuttle during re-entry.

This 50-foot boom is the only component of the Canadarm that is remaining aboard the ISS. The actual Canadarm has returned to Earth and is still available to Canadians, just as soon as we get around to moving it up here.

There have been no recent NASA reports suggesting that these plans have changed and it seems silly of Postmedia News to suggest otherwise.

Canada is still going to get a Canadarm. It will just be a little shorter than it once was.


From: Paul Roberts

Postmedia's reporter seems to have miscounted. There were originally four (4) Candarms built.

One was turned into the boom that has been mounted to the Station. That boom is not an OBSS, it's close, but not the same. The three OBSS booms were built from spare Canadarm tubes plus purpose-built fittings at the ends and in the middle. When the requirement was developed for the Station boom, there were no spare tubes left so one of the four Canadarms was cannibalized for it's booms and new fittings were procured to turn it into the station boom. This left three SRMS (Canadarm) systems and three OBSS systems, one for each shuttle.

So, if one SRMS is being held by NASA, then that leaves two available for museums. One is scheduled to come back to Canada because it was given to NASA and not bought by NASA. None of the OBSS booms is scheduled to come to Canada because NASA paid for all three of them. I dare say that if NASA had bought all of the Canadarms, then none of them would be coming back, and, to be honest, they've paid enough over the last 30 years to upgrade the Canadarm capabilities that they probably have the right to keep them all. I think it speaks volumes for the relationship between Canada and the US that they will give us back one of the pieces of this program.

As for the comment "It will just be a little shorter than it once was," the OBSS was never part of the Canadarm system. It was a new system designed to work with the Canadarm, but it was not part of the original deal and was completely owned and paid for by NASA. 

The Canadarm we get will be as long as it ever was.

Sure, it would be nice to have one, but there are a lot of museums in the US that have a greater right to it since their tax dollars paid for it. Canadians should be proud that it was a Canadian team that designed & built the OBSS systems in such a short period of time and that it has performed flawlessly for every mission it has flown on.

From: Max Harrold (Montreal Gazette)

Mr. Black - Just a note that the corrected version with Endeavour mentioned as the likely source for the CSA to get a Canadarm ran in most of the Postmedia papers. It's possible some websites had the earlier, incorrect version. The link you give has the corrected version.

By the way it was not a reporting error. Duval gave me the erroneous information about the Atlantis. Then she called and emailed with the correct information.

From: Tom Tucker (Thales Group)

Hi Chuck - FYI you might check ownership of shuttle Canada Arms - only the protoype was paid for by Canada - all of the others were paid for by NASA and are therefore American owned and so if one ends up in Canada it will be because NASA donates it to us.

Editors Note: I'm posting comments manually so don't be shy. Send your questions, queries, concerns and comments to mr.chuck.black@gmail.com.

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