VICTORIA, British Columbia — Canada’s space agency hopes to focus on contributing robotics and advanced drilling technology as it plans out its future cooperative international endeavors for Moon and Mars missions.
Those areas of interest for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) are tied to the 2013 Global Exploration Roadmap, released in August by the International Space Exploration Coordination Group. That group is made up of space agencies from Italy, the United States, France, China, Canada, India, Japan, South Korea, Ukraine, Russia and the United Kingdom. Also included is the European Space Agency ().
The roadmap highlights feasible and sustainable exploration approaches to the Moon, near-Earth asteroids and Mars over a 25-year period.
Jean-Claude Piedboeuf of CSA told SpaceNews that while such a roadmap presents various options for future exploration, it is valuable in that it allows CSA to begin planning for such activities.
“This type of roadmap allows us to make sure we have some common goal and if we did develop something the partners would see it and we would use that to fulfill a common objective,” said Piedboeuf, CSA’s director of space exploration development. “It’s kind of intelligence gathering with other agencies to see how to shape a program and what could be the opportunity in the future.”
He noted that the international space station proved that large-scale exploration activity needs to involve collaboration among the various space agencies.
Piedboeuf said Canada’s focus for future exploration missions will be in robotics as well as supporting technologies such as drilling devices. That could see Canadian industry building a rover for lunar operations and a Canadian astronaut as part of that mission, either operating the system on the Moon or a new generation of Canadarm while in lunar orbit.
Although the various space agencies are looking at putting humans on the Moon and eventually on Mars, robots and rovers will lead the way before that.
“In the roadmap there is a combination of robotics and human exploration and it’s clear that it shows that robotics and human exploration are not in competition; they’re really complementary,” Piedboeuf said. “Canada is recognized for its robotics especially with the space shuttle and the space station, where we provided the main robotic components, and we have also a known expertise in vision system and the control of these systems.”
In 2009 the Canadian government announced it was providing the CSA with 110 million Canadian dollars ($107 million) over three years for the development of terrestrial prototypes for space robotic vehicles.
That was used to develop rover expertise in conjunction with Canadian industry. New drilling systems for space exploration were also developed with Canada’s mining industry, Piedboeuf said.
Last year a rover prototype was sent to Hawaii to demonstrate how it could be used to extract resources from the soil during a space mission.
In addition, in 2012 CSA finished developing a new generation of the Canadarm.
This year, further work was done on rover mobility, manipulators for rovers and drill technology. “We are continuing to work with industry and academia to operationalize these systems,” Piedboeuf said.
Canada will also be involved in the Mars 2016 and 2018 mission with ESA, with industry providing components for the orbiter and rover, he said.
In March, Neptec Design Group of Ottawa announced it had signed a contract with Astrium UK Limited for the design and build of navigation cameras for the ExoMars Rover.
The ESA’s ExoMars Program has the goals of understanding the martian environments and establishing whether life had or could now exist on Mars. It comprises two missions: an orbiter in 2016 and a rover mission in 2018.
“The vision cameras that we are developing will be the eyes of the rover as it explores the surface of Mars,” Mike Kearns, Neptec’s president of space exploration, said when announcing the contract.
CSA is also working on future rover resource extraction missions for NASA, Piedboeuf said. “We are looking at whether we can extract water from the regolith,” he said, referring to the powdery soil on the Moon.“The drill technology has been pushed forward so we are closer to be able to drill in cold soil and extract the sample.”
Canada will also focus on taking part in the Mars 2020 mission being planned by NASA. Although Piedboeuf did not get into specifics, he said, “We have been part of NASA missions to Mars with typically small payload contributions.”
As far as future lunar exploration missions, he noted that Russia, India and China have all indicated they are looking at such endeavors. “This could offer some potential but there is no firm agreement yet on all of these missions,” Piedboeuf added.