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Canadian Space Agency and the Canadarm

written by: Rebecca Scudder•edited by: RC Davison•updated: 5/9/2010

While only twenty years old, the Canadian Space Agency inherits a legacy of space research dating back to the beginning of the space age. The most significant development has been the Canadarm. Learn what it is and what it is used for.

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    Canadian Space Agency

    Ask your average person to list nations that are space pioneers, and Canada probably won’t be mentioned. However, while it’s space agency (the Canadian Space Agency, or CSA) is only 20 years old, Canada has been involved in space research from the dawn of the space age.

    In 1962 Canada became only the third nation to operate a man-made satellite, joining the Soviet Union and the United States in what was at the time a very exclusive club. The country designed the Alouette 1 satellite, used to study the ionosphere, which was launched by NASA from Vandenburg AFB in California.

    The original Canadarm, photo courtesy of NASA From that point on, the country has had an active space program. The country’s efforts have resulted in several practical applications of space technology now taken for granted.

    An example is communications satellites; in 1972 Canada launched the Anik A-1 satellite, making it the first nation with a geostationary communications satellite network. The country has since launched more than a dozen communications satellites. Thus was born satellite television.

    Similarly, Canada developed the Radarsat 1 and 2 satellites in 1995 and 2007, using them to map the earth’s resources and climate in great detail.

    Canada has never developed its own launch capabilities, instead relying on NASA (and recently, Russia) for this component of its program. Indeed, working with other national space agencies has always been a hallmark of the Canadian space program; Canada’s most publicly recognized space symbol, the Canadarm, was created as a result of this spirit of cooperation.

    The robotic arm is a key component of NASA’s shuttle program, used to lift objects out of the shuttle’s bay and place them into orbit. It has been in use since 1981, and a successor, the Canadarm 2 is an important component of the International Space Station. In fact, the entire station Mobile Servicing System was built by Canada as part of its contribution to the ISS.

    Canadarm 2, photo courtesy of NASA In 1984, Marc Garneau became the first Canadian to travel into space, hitching a ride on the Challenger space shuttle. Since then, there have been 12 launches of the Space Shuttle with Canadians on board, and Canadian astronauts have visited the International Space Station on a number of occasions.

    The Canadian Space Agency (also know by its French name, l'Agence Spatiale Canadienne) was formally created in 1989 to consolidate and coordinate the countries space research efforts. Headquartered in Saint-Hubert, Quebec, the agency has close to 600 employees working at CSA HQ and at various offices in Ottawa, Paris, Houston and Washington D.C.

    The CSA continues to work closely with other space agencies throughout the world as part of Canada’s contribution to space research and exploration.