Hunting for Avatar’s Pandora with the Pandora SmallSat

Illustration - Exoplanet transiting a sun. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Whether it’s searching for exoplanets like Avatar’s Pandora with the Pandora SmallSat, or investigating dark energy and dark matter, Canadian researchers are taking advantage of space science research opportunities offered by the Canadian Space Agency.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) recently awarded four universities a total of $597k for four space science projects, a part of Cycle 1 of the Research Opportunities in Space Science 2022-2027 program.

The Research Opportunities in Space Science 2022-2027 program is focusing on these science disciplines; Atmospheric and Earth-System Science, Lunar Gateway/Artemis Science and Technology Utilization, Planetary Exploration and Space Astronomy, and Solar-Terrestrial Science.

The four projects selected in Cycle 1 (2022) include;

Pandora Mission An optical-infrared Space Telescope to Characterized the Atmospheres of Exoplanets, Bishop’s University ($150k)

“The Pandora Mission is low-cost space telescope designed measure the composition of distant transiting planets. The Pandora payload has the unique capability of measuring precision photometry simultaneously with near-infrared spectroscopy that will enable scientists to disentangle stellar activity from the subtle signature of a planetary atmosphere.

With a launch date of March 2025, the Pandora mission represents a new class of low-cost space mission that will achieve out-of-this-world science.” It should be noted this is NASA led mission, part of the Astrophysics Pioneers program.

Exploiting the Euclid satellite data in Canada, University of British Columbia ($150k)

“Everyone is familiar with beautiful images from the Hubble Space Telescope, but each of those covers only any part of the sky. The Euclid satellite, scheduled for launch in 2023, will make images of similar quality to those from Hubble, but over about half of the entire sky. This will enable Euclid to investigate the nature of the dark energy and dark mater, as well as to understand how galaxies evolve through the history of the Universe.

This project will enable Euclid’s goals and Legacy products by combining with space-based data available at longer wavelengths.”

Investigating Phlegra Montes Ice and Valles Marineris Sedimentary Deposits Using Data from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, York University ($146,926)

“The first goal is to characterize ground ice and glaciers on Mars at Phlegra Montes with geospatial mapping and ground penetrating radar. This supports the Canadian Space Agency’s goal of locating and characterizing ground ice in Mars in preparation for future human exploration.

The second goal is to characterize two types of sediment at the rim of Valles Marineris – an tectonic rift through an ancient volcanic province. These types of sediment tell us about ancient activity of water and the ancient climate of Mars. Both portions will use data from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, on which PI Smith is a Co-Investigator.”

ExoMars Rosalind Franklin Rover Investigations, Western University ($150k)

“The Rosalind Franklin Rover PanCam instrument suite will be capable of identifying geological materials important for past microbial life—hydrated minerals. As a Co-I on the PanCam instrument team, Dr. Christy Caudill will support the mission by producing a novel hydrated mineral identification strategy and predictive model that will cross-correlate rover-derived data with orbitally derived data. Key to this model is a PanCam instrument-specific mineral toolkit combined with rover exploration strategies.

This research addresses the highest priority Planetary Geology and Geophysics, and Astrobiology objectives as defined by the Canadian planetary exploration community while supporting the science objectives of the ExoMars Rover mission.”

Cycle 2 details

Cycle 2 which is currently accepting applications until July 14, 2023 will see a larger pool of projects selected, up to 23.

  • Approximate project start and end dates: January, 2024 to January, 2027
  • Estimated number of projects awarded:
    • 14 to Atmospheric and Earth-System Science
      • Four 1-year awards
      • Five 2-year awards
      • Five 3-year awards
      • $75,000/year for each award
    • 2 to Lunar Gateway/Artemis Science and Technology Utilization
      • 3-year awards, $75,000/year for each award
    • 2 to Planetary Exploration and Space Astronomy
      • 3-year awards, $50,000/year for each award
    • 5 to Solar-Terrestrial Science
      • 3-year awards, $75,000/year for each award
  • Funding from CSA: up to $5.1M toward eligible costs
  • Estimated number of projects awarded broken down by priorities and eligible activities will be provided no later than eight (8) weeks prior to the cycle deadline

Editor’s note: We previously incorrectly reported that the Space Flight Laboratory was building the Pandora SmallSat when in fact they have contracts for two other Astrophysics Pioneers missions, Starburst and Aspera.

About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive LLC. Boucher has 20+ years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 30 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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