Canada mulls accelerated schedule to keep pace with NASA’s 2024 moon goal

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WASHINGTON — The Canadian Space Agency — NASA’s first international partner to commit to the lunar Gateway — is considering a faster schedule for its contributions to keep pace with NASA’s accelerated plans.

In March, less than a month before U.S. Vice President Mike Pence announced the goal of landing humans on the moon by 2024, Canada pledged to spend 2 billion Canadian dollars ($1.4 billion) on the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway, a human-tended facility in orbit around the moon, as well as other space programs, spread out over 24 years.

Speaking May 22, Sylvain Laporte, president of the Canadian Space Agency, said Canada realized signing onto the lunar Gateway program so early would come with risks, but decided it sent the right signal about Canada’s dedication.

“It was a leap of faith,” Laporte said at a Space Transportation Association luncheon here. “We knew that we were heading down a new program, so don’t get me wrong — we didn’t do this blindly.”

Laporte said the Canadian Space Agency had numerous discussions with NASA before pledging its support for the lunar Gateway.

NASA’s previous plans called for a return to the moon by 2028. Laporte described Canada’s role in the Gateway as “evolving” in light of the new 2024 target.

“The call for action given by Vice President Pence may result in a call for action in countries other than the United States,” he said.

Canada’s biggest proposed contribution to the lunar Gateway is Canadarm-3, a dextrous, 8.5-meter robotic arm built using carbon-fiber composites and infused with artificial intelligence to support space missions. Speeding development of that project is under consideration, Laporte said.

“We’ve been in a lot of discussion with our NASA colleagues in terms of how can Canada help the U.S. be successful. If we were to accelerate the Canadarm program to 2024 or 2025, are there benefits for the American program going forward? We are at that stage now of discussing the details of that,” he said.

Laporte said Canada’s space strategy, released March 6, emphasizes international collaboration. That Canada’s politicians committed to 24 years of lunar Gateway funding — an amount that stretches far beyond what he described as “electorate horizons” — testifies to the Canadian space agency’s ability to press the importance of long-term planning, Laporte said. That funding timeline also reflects the Canadian government’s conviction that long-term collaboration with the U.S. is the right path, he said.

“We have communicated to our NASA colleagues that we are ready to look at accelerating our plans,” he said. “We are looking at taking the risks of accelerating our program.”