Design Engineering

Canadian lunar robot begins Earth-bound moon mission

Kamestastin Lake crater to play as lunar surface for University of Western Ontario robotic rover.

August 31, 2011   Mike McLeod

Since the end of the Apollo missions, space exploration has largely forgotten the Moon. Nearly four decades later, however, NASA and the Canadian Space Agency are taking another look at our nearest cosmic neighbour as a source of scientific discovery.

In support of that effort, a team of scientists and engineers led by Dr. Gordon Osinski from the University of Western Ontario travelled to an impact crater at Kamestastin Lake, Labrador, earlier this week, where they will run through simulated or “analogue” lunar missions with the team’s robotic rover, ROC6.

Over the next month, the team will conduct investigations in the area surrounding the lake to gain experience working with the robot. Two of the university crew will play “astronaut” during the exercise to work out how a combined human-robot team can more effectively gather relevant scientific data than either could achieve independently. Data will be relayed back to mission control, which is located at Western, throughout the mission.

“The Kamestastin Lake crater was chosen because it has a very similar geology to the Moon,” says Osinski. “Conducting analogue missions like this one allows scientists to determine not only what kind of samples they would encounter on the Moon, but which instruments are best suited to help them determine the samples that should be returned to Earth for further analysis.”

This analogue mission is the third of three missions planned under this contract financed by the Canadian Space Agency for the investigation of the formation processes and resource potential of impact craters. This project is completed by Western with its Kamestastin Research Analogue Site for Human exploration (KRASH) mission partners: the University of Toronto’s Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), Memorial University of Newfoundland, York University, the University of Manitoba, Washington University in St. Louis, and the University of Arizona. Industrial partners include, MacDonald, Dettwiler, and Associates (MDA), Optech, and Sensors and Software.

The Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX) represents the largest concentration of planetary scientists in Canada and has resulted in Western becoming the epicentre for planetary science and exploration in the country – particularly for graduate students.

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