CSA long-term space plan to involve multiple Canadian companies

Comments Off on CSA long-term space plan to involve multiple Canadian companies January 23, 2009
by Design Engineering staff

(Go back to “MDA reaches new heights.”)

It was 25 years ago that Ottawa invested in MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates’ Canadarm—a project that has paid off both economically and in bragging rights—and it seems the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is looking to return the nation to the forefront of space exploration and development.

According to The Canadian Press (CP), Steve MacLean, who took over the agency in September 2008, has spent the past few months consulting with industry, academics and government regarding a long-term space plan, which may include an all-Canadian moon rover project.

Reports indicate a full plan was due in November but may not be ready until February. This hasn’t stopped some Canadian companies from getting a head start and working on designs for the rover. One of these companies, Neptec Design Group, which builds laser cameras used to scan U.S. space shuttles for damage while in orbit, says the lunar rover is a major project for CSA and that they could be involved.

“We have done a concept study for the Canadian Space Agency of a rover that Neptec would provide the vision and system integration for, while a number of other companies would provide other pieces,” Iain Christie, the head of Ottawa-based company, told CP.

He said COM DEV International Ltd. of Cambridge, Ont. would handle communications and data payloads, while Ontario Drive and Gear of New Hamburg, Ont., would work on the mobility of the lunar rover. Ontario Drive and Gear builds all-terrain and amphibious vehicles. Additionally, McGill University would contribute designs for a number of parts, including its wheels.

The good news is that this project has the potential to engage Canadian companies with leading-edge expertise in a new space race. CP reports that Gilles Leclerc, the CSA’s director-general of space technologies, says one such company is NORCAT of Sudbury, Ont., the developer of a lunar drill. NORCAT has developed robotic systems for mining equipment, something that might be needed for drilling on the moon or Mars.

Richmond, B.C.-based MDA, responsible 25 years ago for the first Canadarm, is also working on its own proposed lunar rover. Philip Murphy, MDA’s vice-president of government affairs, told CP says he wants the CSA to continue in the niches it has carved out for itself, like robotics.