Contracts awarded: Concept studies and technology development for lunar autonomous science payloads

The Canadian Space Agency is preparing Canada's space community and collaborating sectors – including Canadian companies, universities, research institutions, and other organizations – for potential roles in the long-term exploration of the Moon, a crucial stepping stone in humanity's quest to travel onwards to Mars. The Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program (LEAP) was created to provide a wide range of opportunities for Canadian science and technology activities in lunar orbit, on the Moon's surface, and beyond.

LEAP aims to foster innovation in areas of strength for Canada, like artificial intelligence, robotics, science and health. It will support the commercialization of innovative ideas from Canadian industry, including small and medium-sized businesses, in order to help them become an integral part of the growing new-space economy. The scientific and technological advancements stemming from LEAP are expected to generate tangible benefits for Canadians in their everyday lives.

In early , following a request for proposals issued in , the Space Technology Development Program (STDP) awarded seven contracts for the LEAP totalling $4.36M for concept studies and technology development for lunar surface autonomous science payloads. The list of contracts awarded, including organizations, contract values and project descriptions, is presented below.

Organization Contract value Proposal Objective
Canadensys Aerospace Corporation
Bolton, Ontario
$599,382 Small Canadian Lunar Rover Concept Study and Science Nano-Rover Prototype

The project consists of a mission concept study examining two classes of small Canadian lunar rover to be landed near the south pole of the Moon for the purpose of conducting polar volatile (i.e. elements that easily evaporate, such as water) characterization and surface geology investigations, followed by the development of a prototype.

The project will determine which Canadian lunar science investigation priorities can be addressed by a range of small lunar rover sizes and capabilities, to select a preferred configuration for further development, to conduct mission and system design activities, to identify priority areas for technology development, and to advance the identified priority technologies by building and testing a nano-rover system prototype.

Mission Control Space Services
Ottawa, Ontario
$573,829 Autonomous Soil Assessment System: Contextualizing Rocks, Anomalies and Terrains in Exploratory Robotic Science (ASAS – CRATERS)

The objective of the project is to extend upon the ASAS, originally developed as a navigation aid to increase the safety of rover missions, to turn it into a fully autonomous and artificial intelligence-based science support tool.

The project aims to create a system, which can, when deployed as a payload on a lunar rover, classify lunar terrain into pre-determined geological categories and detect novel geological features, so that it could automatically identify, rank, and select geologic units of interest in order to optimize the data it is returning to Earth. The system will be deployed on a rover prototype during an analogue test campaign, in preparation for an eventual flight mission.

This advanced data processing solution presents an opportunity to commercialize state-of-the-art technology in deep learning for deep-space exploration missions, that would place Canada at the forefront of lunar science in the commercial age, helping drive scientific discovery, stimulate economic growth, and inspire the next generation to pursue studies in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

Canadensys Aerospace Corporation
Bolton, Ontario
$499,984 Small Canadian Lunar Rover Concept Study and Science Micro-Rover Prototype

The project consists of a mission concept study examining two classes of small Canadian lunar rover to be landed near the south pole of the Moon for the purpose of conducting polar volatile (i.e. elements that easily evaporate, such as water) characterization and surface geology investigations, followed by the development of a prototype.

The project will determine which Canadian lunar science investigation priorities can be addressed by a range of small lunar rover sizes and capabilities, to select a preferred configuration for further development, to conduct mission and system design activities, to identify priority areas for technology development, and to advance the identified priority technologies by building and testing a micro-rover system prototype.

ABB Inc.
Quebec City, Quebec
$693,193 Autonomous Lunar Exploration Infrared Spectrometer

The project consists of a concept study and the development of a prototype instrument, a passive stand-off remote sensing spectrometer, that can collect the necessary information to determine the nature of the surface of the Moon (or other celestial bodies).

The instrument will map the mineralogical composition of the surface of celestial bodies, including the Moon, in a stand-off manner. The same technology is also able to identify gases and liquids and can be tuned to perform atmospheric profiling to further characterize the light atmosphere of the Moon. This instrument could provide a strong support tool for the upcoming Lunar Gateway by offering better spectral coverage and improved spatial resolution compared to previous missions and give a better estimation of in-situ resources. The instrument can also be coupled to another mechanism such as a drill on a rover platform to determine, in-situ, the composition of extracted samples as a complement to these types of surface operations.

Magellan Aerospace
Winnipeg, Manitoba
$607,258 Autonomous Impactor for Lunar Exploration

The project consists of a concept study for a lunar impactor (i.e. a probe that impacts a celestial body at high speed and buries itself into the surface) in support of exploration, and specifically in-situ resource utilization, followed by the development of a prototype impactor.

All surface and subsurface operations necessitate interaction with the lunar regolith, which is a thick layer of crushed and pulverized rock that is essentially unconsolidated. Understanding its physical, engineering and mineralogical properties, and how it can be used to explore deeper crustal structure, is critical. The proposed lunar impactor will provide an innovative mechanism for exploring the regolith, as we strive to extract materials from it to support future robotic and human operations.

Such impactor probes represent a game-changer for lunar surface and sub-surface exploration due to their low cost and versatility. Vast regions of the Moon, including the permanently shadowed regions, could be explored using impactor deployments at a fraction of the cost of soft-landers or rovers.

Bubble Technology Industries Inc.
Chalk River, Ontario
$698,321 Lunar Hydrogen Autonomous Neutron Spectrometer

The project consists in the development of an instrument, the Lunar Hydrogen Autonomous Neutron Spectrometer, whose purpose will be to autonomously search for hydrogen (i.e. water and ice) near the Moon's surface, aboard a micro-rover.

This instrument has the potential to become a significant instrument in Canada's contribution to future lunar exploration and planetary science, as the measurement gathered from it would determine the presence of hydrogen and serve as a key enabler for the establishment of a lunar base through in-situ resource utilization. This development will push Canada to the forefront of space science and simultaneously enable major advancements in a number of Earth applications, including radiation protection of military and civilian aircrew personnel; defence and public security applications in nuclear and explosive threat detection; and advancement of fundamental nuclear science.

Western University
London, Ontario
$690,123 Concept Study for an Integrated Vision System for Characterization of the Lunar Surface

This project involves the development of a refined concept study and the development of an instrument, the Integrated Vision System, to be mounted on a rover for lunar surface operations. The technology on this instrument will consist of an integrated multi-wavelength lidar and multispectral imager to provide data collection 360 degrees around a rover or landed platform. The primary goal of the instrument will be to characterize the lunar surface and support the selection of samples to be returned to Earth.

A multispectral lidar would provide a unique advantage for exploring the Moon, particularly its permanently shadowed areas, since cameras can only provide images of an area that is directly illuminated by sunlight. By combining multispectral imaging capabilities with lidar, this instrument could revolutionize celestial surface operations for both scientific applications and rover guidance, navigation, and control.

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