Part of a series of UPI articles examining the aerospace industries of selected countries.
WASHINGTON, Nov. 6 (UPI) -- Canada's national space program has evolved from a minimal beginning to become a crucial U.S. partner aboard the International Space Station. Although America's neighbor to the north occupies a major role in the station, Canada also is developing a space program uniquely suited to its own national economic and scientific needs -- on Earth as well as in orbit.
Canada became one of NASA's first international partners in the space shuttle program, joining the spaceship project in the late 1970s to provide the shuttle's famous robotic arm. Flying first in 1982, the arm has become critical to the shuttle's many different types of missions across more than two decades of flight.
The all-Canadian-built device has lifted commercial payloads and military spy satellites into space. It has locked onto the ailing Hubble Space Telescope during repair missions, and it has captured errant satellites and probes and guided them back into the shuttle's cavernous cargo bay.
Without Canada's arm, NASA's shuttle would not have been nearly as versatile as it was during its early, pre-Challenger commercial and military missions. Successive Canadian governments have used the successful partnership with the American shuttle program to expand the country's aerospace industry and develop advanced technologies.
Nearly two decades ago, those efforts included Canada's first astronauts as well.
Beginning in 1984, Canada developed and trained an astronaut corps, which it sent aboard NASA's shuttles to conduct scientific research programs. Using the shuttles to gain increasing experience in weightless flight, the country eventually grew its space program to conduct increasingly complex space research. Canada's first astronaut, Marc Garneau, became president of the Canadian Space Agency in 2001.
By January 1984, when President Ronald Reagan proposed building a permanent space station using the shuttles, Canada was ready to play an advanced role. A series of international agreements between Ottawa and Washington allowed NASA to bring Canada into the station project in a crucial role. Using its shuttle experience, Canada was selected to build the more advanced robotic arm for the ISS.
The new arm, more complex and capable than the unit designed for the shuttles, is used to berth cargo vehicles and shuttle-borne payloads to the orbiting base. The arm also is used to maneuver modules and other components as the station continues to be assembled more than 250 miles above Earth. It features a highly advanced, robotic "hand" with dexterous "fingers" to grip spaceship parts. As much as any of the other 15 international partners, Canada's technological capabilities have become central to the international project.
Meanwhile, other elements of the CSA have focused on more down-to-earth benefits for Canadians.
Canada's first satellite, the Alouette-1, was launched in 1962. Since then, space technology has migrated to assist advancements in Canada's television broadcast industry, its weather forecasting, wireless telecommunications, navigation and robotics.
Established in 1989, the CSA has developed a series of advanced, Earth-monitoring radar satellites. Called RADARSAT, and owned by MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates of Richmond, British Columbia, the first of the series was launched in 1995. For seven years, the satellite has streamed down images from its Synthetic Aperture Radar, revealing key features of Canada's land and water regions for environmental monitoring and resource tracking.
Canada's space programs also have conducted disaster monitoring and global climate change studies.
RADARSAT has been sufficiently successful that a second satellite will be lofted in 2005. Using even more advanced optics and radar systems, the new satellite will be able to add technology and data for the development of more accurate digital maps of Canada. The imagery also will be used in other surveillance and commercial applications.
The CSA has sought, as a national space goal, the stimulation of commercial space applications for Canadian industry. The RADARSAT series will help create a body of research the Canadian government hopes will generate new industries and new uses for the specialized information, such as geographic data and products.
For example, the Canadian Center for Remote Sensing -- part of Natural Resources Canada -- will take the data from the satellites in orbit and archive the information. Earth stations located at Gatineau, Quebec, and Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, will be activated during the RADARSAT-2 mission.
Canada has also developed the ENVISAT Earth observation satellite series, the first of which was launched last March. The country also has conducted international conferences on advanced robotic technologies, derived in part from its strong space programs.
Working in partnership with the United States, as well as on its own unique national needs, Canada has integrated space research into its 21st century economic and national plans, demonstrating for other nations the potential space activities can hold for both space and more earthly needs.
Frank Sietzen covers aerospace issues for UPI Science News. E-mail email@example.com