Space robotics

Canada is a world leader in space robotics thanks to our country’s contributions to successive international space exploration missions including NASA’s planned Lunar Gateway and the International Space Station. Canada’s iconic robotic system, the “Canadarm,” is a symbol of Canadian ingenuity, skills and talent, and has paved the way for successive robotic systems such as “Dextre” and subsystems used on commercial and other deep space exploration missions.

Highlights of Canadian Capabilities

Canada’s contribution of the Canadarm to NASA’s Columbia space shuttle in 1981 marked the beginning of building Canada’s expertise in space robotics and our country’s signature contribution to international space exploration more broadly. Canadarm2 was adopted to assemble the International Space Station in 2001 and continues to berth and unload cargo vehicles transporting essential supplies and equipment to the station. Dextre, the latest and most sophisticated space robot in the world, inspects and maintains the International Space Station (ISS) using its two dexterous "arms".

Today, Canada is leveraging this expertise and capability to become the first international partner to commit to the Lunar Gateway, the next major international space exploration endeavour led by NASA. As part of its contribution to this planned spaceport that will orbit the Moon, Canada will design, build and operate a smart robotic system, Canadarm3. This next generation system will be enabled with artificial intelligence (AI) to perform tasks on the spaceport independently and without human intervention of any kind.

These major space projects have built an industrial and talent base in Canada that is unrivalled in the world. For instance, an estimated supply chain of 200 Canadian companies contributed to developing Canadarm2. This has driven leadership in the space subsystems required to operate these robots successfully, including machine vision and sensor systems as well as drilling and sampling systems, which can be adopted to other spacecraft and terrestrial rovers. Canada has applied these systems to other deep space missions such as NASA’s Phoenix mission and the Lunar Exploration Light Rover (LELR) to Mars.

The Government of Canada recognized space systems as one of 16 Key Industrial Capabilities or KICs under its Industrial and Technological Benefits (ITB) policy. Under the policy, future defence and major Canadian Coast Guard procurements will, where appropriate, motivate industry to make investments across the supply chain in these key industrial capabilities, including robotics, to build leading and emerging capabilities and skills important to Canada’s industrial competitiveness and national security needs.

Major projects


Government support

Canadian Space Agency

Space Technology Development Program

The Canadian Space Agency's (CSA) Space Technology Development Program (STDP) supports innovation to grow Canada’s space industry and reduce technological unknowns. The program issues contracts to Canadian organizations for the development of technologies to support future needs of the Canadian Space Program and non-repayable contributions to Canadian organizations to support the development of innovative technologies with strong commercial potential.


SmartEarth is the Canadian Space Agency's (CSA) renewed funding initiative related to Earth observation applications development. It fosters a smart use of satellite data to develop solutions to key challenges on Earth and in our everyday lives.

Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program (LEAP)

The Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program (LEAP) is a CSA program that is looking to foster innovation in areas of strength for Canada, such as artificial intelligence, robotics, science and health. It will support the commercialization of innovative ideas from Canadian industry, including small and medium-sized businesses, in order to help them become an integral part of the growing new-space economy. With a specific focus on deep space, LEAP will enable the Canadian space sector to develop and conduct science experiments designed for lunar conditions, advance and demonstrate innovative technologies in lunar orbit, the lunar surface, and beyond, and develop technologies that will be required as part of future deep-space missions.

European Space Agency

Canada is the only non-European cooperating state in ESA. The Cooperation Agreement between Canada and ESA allows Canada to be part of the ESA's decision-making process. Through this unique agreement, Canadian organizations can bid on tenders for ESA contracts related to activities and programs in which Canada participates. It provides opportunities for them to create alliances with European industry and access to space qualification or flight opportunities for their technologies and products.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is responsible for unique scientific and technological achievements in human spaceflight, aeronautics, space science, and space applications that have had widespread impacts on the U.S. and the world. Canada has become a unique partner for NASA and one of the few partners entrusted with mission critical elements. The CSA is currently participating in several flagship missions including the ISS. More information on CSA-NASA collaborations can be found on the CSA website.

Industrial and Technological Benefits Policy

The ITB Policy is a new, powerful investment attraction tool for Canada. It will encourage companies to establish or grow their presence in Canada, strengthen Canada's supply chains, and develop Canadian industrial capabilities.

Visit our Programs and Initiatives page to learn more about government programs that help support businesses develop and commercialise of space innovations.

Other Resources

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