A lunar or Martian rover appears to be among the priorities that will eventually be outlined in Canada’s Long-Term Space Plan, a planning tool the Canadian Space Agency says it has been working to complete during the past year.
That information emerged from a series of CSA tenders – collectively worth at least $9.75 million – issued these past few weeks on Merx, a Canadian contracting system that mainly deals with federal procurement. One of the contracts had no dollar value attached to it.
Buoyed by $20 million in federal stimulus funding received earlier this year, as of Sept. 14 the CSA outlined 10 science and technology projects open for bidding, including six specifically dealing with prototype rover technologies:
– A micro-rover to explore, collect samples and scout out new locations (budget up to $1.8 million);
– A “next generation” rover power system able to last through extended missions, including the capability to self-recharge through the sun or other energy sources ($1.25 million);
– A small robotic rover arm, designed with five degrees of freedom, that can be robotically controlled through a vision system ($1.6 million);
– A microscopic imager able to attach to a robotic arm – assumedly the one mentioned in the previous contract – to examine rocks close-up ($1 million);
– A “mini-corer”, also able to attach to a robotic arm, which can take soil or rock samples into storage for return to Earth ($1.6 million);
– High-speed Internet suitable for a lunar base, capable of connecting rovers and humans and a central station through wired and wireless connections ($750,000).
Space robotic vehicles were also outlined as a priority in the section of the federal government’s 2009 budget on the CSA, which redirected $1.4 million of the agency’s budget this year to technologies such as a lunar rover or Mars lander.
A previous government effort to land a rover on Mars – championed by former CSA president Marc Garneau under a Liberal government in 2001 – failed to materialize when the federal Conservatives pulled funding from the project five years later.
Additional CSA tenders on Merx covered:
– Four contracts in partnership with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) for the Astro-H X-ray observatory and a future, unnamed mission that will examine dark energy ($600,000);
– Increasing the maturity of “exploration technology deployments” through field testing ($400,000);
– A computer system for commanding payloads ($750,000);
– Flight operations and maintenance for CSA satellite projects, including RADARSAT-1, SCISAT and those in partnership with other agencies, for the lowest bidder.
In total, the traditionally cash-strapped CSA – its annual budget has been frozen around $370 million for some time – will receive a temporary $110-million infusion during the next three years if the promises of the 2009 federal budget stand.
However, talk of another federal election is brewing this fall. Should the ruling Conservatives fall or end up in a smaller minority, how much money the CSA will get is anybody’s guess.
Elizabeth Howell is a space, science and business journalist with credits in publications like the Globe and Mail, Air and Space Smithsonian, the Space Review and the Ottawa Business Journal.