While the International Space Station will still be used until at least 2024 what comes next? That discussion has been ongoing within the space community for some time. The use of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) for business and research is only going to increase. National space agencies though are looking beyond LEO for the next challenge including cislunar exploration.
How NASA fits into the beyond LEO picture is critical to smaller supporting agencies like the Canadian Space Agency. NASA’s marketing of the Journey to Mars has come to an end. That goal continues, but the overt marketing has ended. In it’s place, from NASA’s perspective, is a policy void, at least in the short term.
That policy void though is about to end as former U.S. Navy F-18 pilot and current Congressman, Jim Bridenstine will become NASA’s next administrator. That announcement is expected in early September, though depending on the whims of the White House, it could happen next week. While we don’t know exactly when, SpaceQ sister site, NASA Watch has multiple sources who have confirmed Bridenstine and his deputy.
After leaving the Navy and before becoming a congressman from Oklahoma, Bridenstine was Executive Director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum & Planetarium. Joining him as Deputy Administrator will be John Schumacher, a former U.S. Navy veteran and NASA Chief of Staff who is currently Aerojet Vice President of Washington, D.C. Operations.
The two will work as a team steer the NASA’s mission and will continue the public-private commercial model that has been emerging. So while Mars is still NASA’s long term goal, you’ll see renewed efforts to work in the cislunar environment, including on the moon. The tricky part will be to balance what the Trump administration wants to do with a Congress which is strongly exercising its power to shape NASA’s direction.
For Canada, the Canadian Space Agency has been shaping a course that includes small targeted technology investments for Mars such as the ice-sounder announced in the budget, concept studies for technologies and missions beyond LEO and now direct investment in future robotic capabilities.
A week ago the Canadian Space Agency issued a press release announcing a $2.75-million contract awarded to MDA to begin work on what it would take to “build a deep-space exploration robotics system, which could be used to operate and maintain a future space station near the Moon”.
It’s not an insignificant step.
This is more than a concept study. MDA’s Chief Technology Officer Cameron Ower and robotics Product Development Manager Paul Fulford have already been working on the concept. Now they’ll lead the effort at MDA to identify the requirements needed to build the cislunar robotic system.
Depending on how NASA’s space policy shapes up over the next couple of years, Canada will be well positioned to, at a minimum, continue leading in the space robotics field by contributing to the cislunar international effort.
For the Canadian Space Agency “the establishment of a future space station between the Earth and the Moon is a key element of deep-space exploration by Canada and its partners in the international space community. The establishment of a new outpost between Earth and the Moon will enable astronauts to travel farther into space, where they can demonstrate new technologies that can be used at great distances from the Earth.”
If the international space community is going to the moon, Canada won’t be left out.