A tiny laser on a camera mounted on the arm points towards the object and scans it, much like a computer scanner. But the image - in this case, a picture of the shuttle's docking hatch - is three-dimensional.
"You can see each one of these dots is literally a pulse of light going there and back," said Mr. Ower, director of research and development at MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. in Brampton. "So you can see the 3D features of that docking system."
But just over a year ago, it looked like this new technology would fall into American hands. MDA announced on Jan. 8, 2008 that it would sell its information systems division which includes the Canadarm, its RADARSAT weather satellite series, some rover research and associated technologies.
Today, space industry observers say that the $1.3-billion near-sale - blocked by then-Industry Minister Jim Prentice in May 2008 - forced the Canadian government to re-evaluate its priorities beyond the atmosphere, especially since space exploration often plays a role in sovereignty and defence discussions.
MDA said it could not generate enough business in the U.S. from its position in Canada, which is why it offered up the technology to Minnesota-based Alliant Techsystems Inc.
"We have been frustrated in that area," added Steve Oldham, vice-president of business development for MDA Space Missions, in a separate phone interview.
"The U.S. space market is larger, but the U.S. has a strong philosophy of buying space within American space companies, so it's hard for a Canadian company to compete."
It's a problem the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada has highlighted repeatedly in the months following the near sale. Now with a new administration in place in the United States, executive vice-president Ron Kane said he's hoping to see more progress.
"We certainly have advocated on the need for both governments to come to the table to address the problems, but we're not aware of a precise timeline," he added.
Within six months of the collapsed sale, Mr. Prentice appointed former Canadian astronaut Steve MacLean to head the Canadian Space Agency, which had struggled through a string of short-term presidents for years.
The U.S. has a strong philosophy of buying space within American space companies, so it's hard for a Canadian company to compete. - Steve Oldham, vice-president of business development, MDA Space Missions
Mr. MacLean began work on a long-term space plan, and in late January the government injected $110 million in funding over three years on top of the CSA's budget of $350 million, which has been frozen for several years.
Mr. Oldham argued it was the near-sale of MDA that made the government wake up and pay attention. Industry Canada, however, sees it differently.
"The importance of Canada's space program has long been recognized by the government," wrote spokesperson Stefanie Power in an e-mail.
The agency refused to answer questions in a telephone interview.
As for concerns that MDA wouldn't be able to sell its wares in the U.S., "The space sector is ... very adept at identifying opportunities to commercialize its expertise and sell to foreign markets," she added.
MDA is pursuing a "plan B" and said it is looking at additional, confidential contracts with U.S. companies; Mr. Oldham added the company is doing "relatively well" right now.
Fellow space firm COM DEV said any additional government money is welcome, but pointed out the funds are temporary and not far-reaching enough.
"There has been a lot of discussion in the government about coming up with a new long-term space plan for the space agency, but any possibility that may happen this year was sidelined by the emergency of the stimulus budget," said Ron Holdway, COM DEV's senior director of government relations in Canada.
"The space agency will carry on with its existing budget ... (and) the earliest that we would see a long-term space plan would be 2010."
The space plan has already been delayed, since initial promises said it would come through in late 2008. However, CSA spokesperson Julie Simard laughed when told about Mr. Holdway's hypothesis.
"He's got information that I don't have," she said.