Dr. Alex Ellery, Associate Professor

Canadian Research Chair (Space Robotics and Space Technology)

B.Sc, Ulster, United Kingdom

M.Sc, Sussex, United Kingdom

Ph.D, Cranfield, United Kingdom

Alex Ellery’s University Bio

Canada has long been a world leader in space technology. The Canadarm, for example, is installed in every space shuttle, as well as on the International Space Station. It can manipulate spacecraft components, deploy and retrieve satellites and perform other tasks in orbit. But the Canadarm is large and expensive, and requires a human operator. New research into smaller, less expensive technologies will lead to the next generation of robotic space devices.

As Canada Research Chair in Space Robotics and Space Technology, Dr. Alex Ellery has an enviable record in this area, working with organizations such as the European Space Agency to overcome the problems of operating space-based robotics in low-gravity environments, in the harshest conditions, out of reach of human operators, and too far away to remotely control via radio link. Using lab equipment, Ellery simulates such conditions as the surface of Mars.

One problem facing space technology and robotics has to do with the current way satellites are maintained in space. By investigating new, modular designs for spacecraft components, and by using robotic arms that work the same way an astronaut’s do, Ellery hopes to dramatically reduce the cost of assembly and repair. If spacecraft could install their own new parts, they wouldn’t be crippled if their components failed, and the potential cost savings would be enormous.

Robotic systems may also be used on planetary rovers on, for instance, the surface of Mars. By adapting technologies found in the natural world (such as the way some insects drill into wood and soil) the search for life signs will be made easier.

These technologies will bring space ever closer to us, even if it is only within robotic reach.