Canada is Going to the Moon

A group photo with the Prime Minister, former and current astronauts and Cabinet Ministers. Credit: Canadian Space Agency.

Today Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed what many had hoped for by committing Canada to participate in the NASA led effort to return to the moon.

Canada will contribute a smart robotic system to the NASA’s Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G) program. The smart robotic system includes a next-generation robotic arm, which is already being called the Canadarm3, other unnamed equipment, and specialized tools to be used on this unique system.

The historic announcement contained more than the commitment to NASA’s LOP-G program. The Canadian Space Agency also has a new Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program (LEAP), and a Junior Astronauts program was announced.

An artist’s concept of Canada’s smart robotic system
An artist’s concept of Canada’s smart robotic system located on the exterior of the Gateway, a small space station in orbit around the Moon. Credits: Canadian Space Agency, NASA.

The lunar gateway will be one-fifth of the size of the International Space Station and will orbit the Moon. Its functions include to serve as a;

  • Science laboratory.
  • Test site for new technologies.
  • Meeting location for exploration to the surface of the Moon.
  • Mission control centre for operations on the Moon.
  • Future stepping stone for voyages to Mars.

According to the press release issued by the Prime Minister’s office, the Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program “will help Canadian businesses and academic institutions use and test new technologies in lunar orbit and on the surface of the Moon in the fields of health, artificial intelligence, and robotics.”

A representative of one company that has an interest in the moon said the new LEAP program is designed to provide a balance in Canada’s objectives at the moon so that we don’t have 100% of our commitment in the LOP-G Program. This was confirmed in a discussion I had with ISED Minister Bains shortly after the announcement was made. You can listen to my conversation with Minister Bains in this weeks SpaceQ podcast.

Over $2B committed

Canada is committing $2.05B over 24 years to what will be central to Canada’s new space strategy, the moon. The Prime Minister in making the announcement said “we’re stepping up” and “Canada is going to the moon”. The Prime Minister couldn’t be clearer in his statement.

The investment according to the government will “contribute $100 million annually to Canada’s gross domestic product.”

Including in the funding is $150M over five years for the LEAP program. This is a very important component to the commitment. It will allow companies to develop commercial technologies designed to help humanity create a human presence on the moon with the goal of a permanent human outpost.

This will be music to the ears of companies such as Canadensys, Leap Biosystems, Moon Express Canada and many others.

The announcement will satisfy many, but not all. Some will see it as simply a continuation of the governments support of big companies like MDA. It wasn’t MDA that chose to go to the moon and MDA won’t be the only company to benefit from this program. MDA relies on large supply chain that the government expects them to tap into so that funds are spread around.

The LOP-G program is a result of many nations working together in a Global Exploration Roadmap. That roadmap pointed the way to the moon and eventually Mars.

NASA for its part, was central in requesting that Canada participate in the LOP-G and wanted Canada to continue its contribution in robotics. But robotics will only play one part in any moon initiative. Canada has an opportunity to do more, and the new LEAP program will help.

Minister Bains said NASA was aware of Canada’s announcement and that he had also spoken with United States Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross a few days ago to inform the Trump administration of Canada’s plans.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine issued the following statement on Canada’s announcement today. “NASA is thrilled that Canada is the first international partner for the Gateway lunar outpost. Space exploration is in Canada’s DNA. In 1962, Canada became the third nation to launch a satellite into orbit with Alouette 1. Today, Canada leads the world in space-based robotic capabilities, enabling critical repairs to the Hubble Space Telescope and construction of the International Space Station. Our new collaboration on Gateway will enable our broader international partnership to get to the Moon and eventually to Mars.”

Pre-budget announcement

The governments timing was designed to send a message before the budget comes out on March 19. The commitment means that come election time, if the Liberals are not re-elected, that a plan and some funding will in place, making it harder to renege on the commitment.

In last years budget, science was the big winner. This time around a major part of the space community will be satisfied. There are those still waiting on funding. This includes Canada’s astronomers. As well,  Canada is in the midst of crafting a new and important Earth Observation strategy. Whatever comes from that strategy will need funding as well. It should also be note that funding though other innovation programs has been allocated for space programs and will continue to do so. This includes the Department of National Defence IDEaS program and the Strategic Innovation Fund.

In his prepared remarks the Prime Minister said “Canada’s historic investment will create good jobs for Canadians, keep our astronaut program running and our aerospace industry strong and growing, while opening up a new realm of possibilities for Canadian research and innovation. With the Lunar Gateway, Canada will play a major role in one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. Together, with our partners from around the world, we’ll continue to push the boundaries of human ambition, and inspire generations of kids – and adults – to always aim higher and aspire to something greater.”

The funding announced today is over and above the Canadian Space Agency’s base funding. It also does not take into account funding that may be added for other programs. It is though, the signal Canada’s partners have been waiting for, would Canada step-up and continue to be a leader in the space community? The answer it seems is yes.

Watch a replay of the Prime Minister announcing Canada’s moon plans

Inspiring the next generation

Junior Astronaut program
Credit: Canadian Space Agency.

The announcement today was not just for today, it’s a long term commitment and the government understands it must inspire the next generation. With that in mind they launched the Junior Astronaut initiative.

The initiative is open to students in Grade 6, 7 or 8 in the coming 2019–2020 school year to participate in among other things, a national Junior Astronaut Recruitment Campaign.

A couple hours after the main announcement the Prime Minister, Minister’s Bains and Garneau, and astronauts Jeremy Hansen and Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons participated in a national school assembly to talk to students about Canada going to the moon.

About Marc Boucher

Marc Boucher
Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactice Inc. Boucher has 20 years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 27 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.