Canadensys Aerospace Delivers Microscope for APL-led Lunar Vertex Mission

Canadensys Aerospace has delivered a Multi-spectral Microscope to the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), for the Lunar Vertex Mission. Image credit: Canadensys Aerospace.

Canadensys Aerospace has a lot of lunar projects in the works. The company recently announced it has delivered a multi-spectral microscope to the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), for the Lunar Vertex Mission. Vertex is funded under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program that is aiming to deliver payloads to the moon to support the Artemis human missions.

Notably, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) will fly Jeremy Hansen on the moon-circling Artemis 2, and CSA astronauts Artemis 4 and 6 as well. However, these missions are through the CSA’s contribution of the Canadarm3 robotic arm for the NASA Gateway space station. Canadensys does work with the CSA as well, as this article will explore, but Vertex is through a separate pathway.

Vertex is a joint lander and rover mission that will touch down in Reinter Gamma, which is a lunar swirl formation on the moon with enigmatic origins The rover aims to use a magnetometer to make surface measurements, NASA has said. The overall mission aims to collect data to understand the formation and evolution of not only swirls, but the moon’s interior and core.

Canadensys’ multi-spectral microscope imager is designed to examine the regolith’s texture and composition. It will use light-emitting diodes that send out light in five specific wavelengths that are optimized to provide information about regolith on the moon that again, should provide more information about the swirl’s formation history. The imager for the mission is now being calibrated at APL before being prepared with other payloads for launch.

“One of our fundamental goals or Canadensys is to help humanity move out into space to increase the sphere of influence of humanity beyond Earth, out into cislunar space and beyond,” Christian Sallaberger, president and CEO of the company, told SpaceQ. He added this not only means working with human spaceflight activities, but working on options to allow others on Earth “to vicariously participate in exploration through robotic missions as well.”

This is the first time this instrument has flown on a space mission, but Canadensys’ experience with optical instruments goes back about a decade, Sallaberger said. The company wanted a camera that could send “immersive” pictures back to Earth from the rover – able to withstand the radiation, temperature swings and dust on the lunar surface, but still at a modest mass and size.

“It’s really designed for that purpose of use on a lunar mission,” he said, adding that another requirement was to make sure the instrument did not depend on a high-bandwith connection to Earth. The camera, he said, has a “strong computational ability so that it can process the images and compress them, to minimize the bandwidth, to send them back – and even a fair bit of storage as well.”

A related optical instrument to Vertex’s will fly on the International Lunar Observatory Association’s ILO-X mission currently slated to lift off this fall aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander. The dual-imaging instrument by Canadensys will assist with ILO-X’s aim to operate for a single lunar day to capture pristine images of the galactic center of the Milky Way. ILO-X is a precursor to another, more ambitious observatory known as ILO-1; Canadensys is the prime contractor for the instruments on both missions.


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Sallaberger said he was proud that Canadensys won the competitive selection for the Vertex mission, whose prime contractor is APL. The instrument flying on Vertex, he said, will also inform a similar instrument that will be flying on a CSA-funded mini-rover led by Canadensys, which will fly in 2026 or so.

“We as a company have been very involved with lunar rover programs for many years,” noted Sallaberger, saying over various CSA contracts regarding mission study, technology development and prototyping they have delivered four or five different lunar rover prototypes to the Canadian government. 

When the rover project was in its early stages, the CSA issued two options for the program – an 8-9 kg size and another one of about 30 kg. Canadensys won the competitive process to do a mission study for both of those classes, then won contracts to do a prototype of each of those rovers. Now Canadensys is the prime to design and build the smaller of the two rovers for a flight.

“In our headquarters facility in Bolton, just north of Toronto, we’ve got rovers operating here. We are being developing some of the guidance and navigation control algorithms. For example, we have rovers in our Stratford facility – we have a second plant in Stratford – where we’ve got a large indoor hockey rink-sized sandbox, where we test our rovers out as well.”

Sallaberger also reflected on the success of his company’s camera aboard Hakuto-R, a Japanese mission that failed during landing but that did allow time for pictures of the moon to be captured in orbit. Its multi-camera, AI-enabled, 360-degree imaging system took initial images of the full moon in March 2023 as well as dramatic footage of the Earth shortly after launch in December 2022.

A Canadensys Aerospace camera on the Japanese ispace Hakuto-R lunar lander imaged the Moon as the spacecraft went into orbit.
A Canadensys Aerospace camera on the Japanese ispace Hakuto-R lunar lander imaged the Moon as the spacecraft went into orbit. Credit: Canadensys Aerospace.

The lunar imaging system had been designed to image rovers from the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the United Arab Emirates Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) during deployment from opposite sides of a lander, made by Japanese company ispace.

“We were thrilled when we checked out the camera on the way to the moon, and got some great images,” Sallaberger said, calling the images “just breathtaking.” While the lander apparently crashed on the surface, most of the mission objectives were achieved – including demonstration of Canadensys’ imaging system in space and sending back images, which involved using compression. The lunar imaging was particularly interesting, he said, as the system was designed to take close-up images of the surface rather than full-disk images of planetary bodies.

Overall, Canadensys has 25 pieces of lunar hardware expected to land on the lunar surface in the coming years on “a whole bunch of different missions,” Sallaberger said. Science instruments, cameras and microscopes are among some of the examples. The company even has a contract funded by the CSA for a concept in agriculture and food production that may see a “lunar greenhouse” to grow food on the moon for future lunar explorers.

Government customers represent about 20 percent of the business of Canadensys, with most its work coming from commercial. Funding from entities like NASA, CSA and the European Space Agency allow the company to commercialize its capabilities for the market, Sallaberger said, including with camera development. 

The company’s greatest commercial success is a terrestrial electric vehicle – a spinoff from its years of lunar rover work – that allows a six-wheeled, pickup-truck sized vehicle to take on off-road or even amphibious work. It can also operate autonomously under some conditions, Sallaberger said. The U.K. Ministry of Defense, the U.S. military and Scottish peat-fire firefighters are some of the buyers of the technology.

About Elizabeth Howell

Is SpaceQ's Associate Editor as well as a business and science reporter, researcher and consultant. She recently received her Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota and is communications Instructor instructor at Algonquin College.

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