When we heard that the Government of Canada with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) was going to make a “major announcement” on space exploration today, we immediately thought of NASA’s Artemis program and that it related to Canadian astronauts going to the Moon. What we didn’t suspect is that through a new agreement with NASA, that Canada would be sending an astronaut on the first mission.
Canada has signed a “historic agreement that confirms Canada’s participation in the next major international collaboration in space exploration, the planned Lunar Gateway space station.”
That agreement called the Gateway Treaty formalizes Canada’s participation in the Lunar Gateway program which is part of NASA’s Artemis program. That program is the U.S. effort to return to the Moon and lead an international permanent presence. The agreement is significant as it is a “treaty-level agreement signed by the CSA President and NASA Administrator on behalf of their respective governments” according to a CSA spokesperson.
We already knew that Canada was going to participate in the Lunar Gateway and provide advanced robotics including the Canadarm3.
Now we know that in the initial phases of the NASA Artemis program that Canada has signed on to send two astronauts on two missions. And incredibly, a Canadian astronaut will be on the Artemis II mission, the first NASA human mission to the Moon since 1972. That mission is scheduled for 2023 and will see the astronauts journey to the Moon on a fly-around similar to the Apollo 8 mission in 1968. They won’t land on this mission. The mission is primarily meant to test out the Orion spacecraft.
A Canadian will then participate in a second mission to the Moon, this time to the Lunar Gateway when it’s ready and on station. There was no mention of a Canadian going to the surface of the Moon. That announcement, should it come, will likely be several years down the road.
The initial missions of the NASA led Artemis program that have been announced include:
- Artemis I – The first launch of the NASA Space Launch System (SLS) with Orion.
- Artemis II – The first crewed mission around the Moon.
- Artemis III – The return of humans to the Moon’s surface. The last human mission to the surface of the Moon was Apollo 17 in 1972.
We also don’t know which Canadian astronauts will be on which mission. During the questions and answer portion of the news conference, SpaceQ had the opportunity to ask a question. I directed the question to Jeremy Hansen and asked him about that when in 2009 when he was selected as astronaut if he thought he would have an opportunity to go to the Moon?
“Well, Marc, has it really been 11 years, time flies when you’re having fun. If I think back, did I ever think I’d have the opportunity to go to the Moon? Ya, in fact, you know, David (Saint-Jacques) and I, when we were selected, we were very much talking about going back to the Moon at that time, or NASA was, we didn’t know what role Canada would play. But then NASA shifted their focus for a while.”
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“But I’ve always believed in Canada, in our space program. I think we’ve achieved amazing things. I honestly feel like we’re just getting started. I feel like the future is so, so bright, so many amazing challenges ahead. It’s not going to be just like our own lives. It’s not gonna be easy. There’s going to be ups and downs as we go. But I do feel like there’s tremendous opportunity.”
“I’m pretty excited that Canada has had the vision and the leadership to commit to doing something that we do so very well, space robotics to take it into its next evolution … It will look very similar, but this is a significant leap in technology. It has a lot of trickle down effects with respect to artificial intelligence. And for the first time in history, we now see a commercial need for space robotics. That’s never happened before. We see this technology starting to become commercialized, and I think that opens tremendous opportunity for Canada. It was highlighted in the announcement today, but it’s maybe not obvious to a lot of people. Right now. We do control, Canadarm2 from Canada, but we also control it from Mission Control and at NASA. But there’s something very, very neat about this announcement, we will, Canada will be responsible for all robotic space robotics done in the Gateway, that means those jobs would be here in Canada, those decisions will be made here in Canada. And that bodes really well for Canada in this evolving market space of leveraging space robotics.”
“So I’m excited that a Canadian will be on Artemis II. But what I’m telling you about with all these other opportunities is that we are paving the way to Canadians doing even more things in space, eventually, hopefully one day Canadian on the Moon, and on Mars, those are our goals. And we believe in the trickle down effects from them.”
Minister Bains then chimed in and said Jeremy Hansen was being very humble. He said Hansen played a “critical role” in the understanding of public policies as it relates to Canada’s Space Strategy engaging with Minister Bains, Cabinet and the Prime Minister when asked.
According to the news release from government, the “with the application of the Industrial and Technological Benefits Policy, Canadian-built space robotics for the Gateway are estimated to contribute up to $135 million annually to Canada’s GDP and create and maintain some 1,300 high-quality jobs for Canadians over an estimated 10-year build period.”
That’s a point the Minister and all involved have been trying to convey with respect to Canada’s $2.1 billion investment in the Lunar program over 24 years. It’s an investment that is meant to contribute to Canada’s economy.
But economic benefit is not the sole reason for Canada’s involvement in the Lunar Gateway. There’s plenty of science to be learned. Fellow astronaut Jenni Sidey-Gibbons spoke of the science opportunities saying “I’m glad that you asked that because the potential for scientific discovery on the Moon with the Lunar Gateway is really exciting, and it’s new. And it’s varied as well. I mean, it ranges from mapping a lunar surface to enabling higher definition images of space.
“The Apollo program was an amazing program that facilitated some incredible science. And we learned a lot about our own planet and our own Moon. But we were limited in the sites that we could visit. Now what the Lunar Gateway in its orbit is going to allow us to do is to visit a bunch of different sites on the Moon, some of which have liquid, or water ice, on them. So we understand now that if we can gain some more expertise and learn about the distribution of water ice on the Moon, and we can gain this key insight into the next steps that we need to complete in order to set up sustainable bases on other planetary bodies in our solar system. So that’s going to be really cool to find out.”
“Canada scientists are also really interested in studying the geological record of the Moon in the geological processes that formed the Moon’s surface. And that gives us gives us hints not only as to how our own Moon formed, but also lets us know about the composition and characteristics of other terrestrial planets in our solar system. We learn about other Moons, icy moons of other planets, and even smaller objects like asteroids.”
“Finally, I’ll also say that the moon just provides this incredible testbed for us to test things like new rover technologies, and those become these roaming scientific platforms that we can deploy on any other rocky planetary surface we might be able to reach. So there is a lot to learn. And this announcement is pretty exciting, as you say, because it means that Canada, and Canadians will be there to help facilitate all of that new science.”
NASA also issued a press release today concerning the announcement administrator Jim Bridenstine stating “Canada was the first international partner to commit to advancing the Gateway in early 2019, they signed the Artemis Accords in October, and now we’re excited to formalize this partnership for lunar exploration. This agreement represents an evolution of our cooperation with CSA providing the next generation of robotics that have supported decades of missions in space on the space shuttle and International Space Station, and now, for Artemis.”