This Week in Space for Canada

It’s the summer silly season and signs of life in Ottawa and at the John H. Chapman Space Centre in the sleepy Montreal south shore suburb of Longueuil are noticeably absent. So thank goodness for the joint European Space Agency (ESA)/NASA ExoMars mission, expected to hunt for signs of life on the red planet during 2016-2018, which yesterday announced a series of mission instruments for their ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter. Canadian contributions are included, at least as of this week in space for Canada.

According to the August 2nd article titled “Caltech and Canadian Space Agency awarded NASA project to develop spectrometer headed for Mars” the California Institute of Technology (CALTECH) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) will be:

“partnering on the development of the Mars Atmospheric Trace Molecule Occultation Spectrometer (MATMOS) instrument to be flown aboard the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter when it launches in 2016.
The project will be funded by a grant from NASA, with additional support coming from the CSA.

MATMOS subcontractors will include researchers from Dalhousie University, the University of Toronto, York University and the University of Winnipeg according to the August 2nd, article “Canadians join NASA search for life on Mars.” The MATMOS principle investigator will be Paul Wemmberg from CALTECH, according to the August 2nd Space News article “Payload Selected for 2016 U.S.-European Mars Mission.
So in the greater scheme of things, this isn’t quite as important as some of the other Canadian space activities over the last few years. We are essentially only acting as a subcontractor for CALTECH.
Other instruments chosen for the mission include the High-resolution solar occultation and nadir spectrometer (SOIR/NOMAD), the ExoMars Climate Sounder (EMCS), the High-resolution Stereo Color Imager (HiSCI) and the Mars Atmospheric Global Imaging Experiment (MAGIE).
Canada’s original contribution to the program was far more substantive as outlined in this July 18, 2007 article from the CanWest News Service titled “B.C. robotics firm lands Martian contract” which stated:
“A Richmond, B.C.-based technology firm announced Tuesday that is has won a one-million-euro ($1.4million Cdn) contract with EADS Astrium of Britain to design and build a prototype Mars rover for the European Space Agency (ESA).

MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates
Ltd.’s (MDA) prototype of the robot chassis, will be used in the upcoming ExoMars mission, and is scheduled to be completed for testing by the agency by next year.”

Of course, the requirements, terms and conditions of that contract have changed substantively since the original was awarded in 2007. In 2009 NASA and ESA agreed upon a new Mars Joint Exploration Initiative, significantly altering the technical and financial setting of the original ExoMars mission and pushing the launch date back from the original 2011 time period to 2013. In August of the same year the Russians joined the project with their their own set of requirements and then in October, the mission was split into two parts, which changed the specifications yet again and pushed the launch date to 2016-2018.
At present, it seems that the originally conceived and designed MDA ExoMars rover chassis & locomotion system is unlikely to ever see the Martian surface. But at least MDA got some money for it’s original design efforts.
Just don’t hold your breath waiting for the MATMOS project to move forward because the specifications for this latest contract could also change and Canada might be left out in the cold a second time. The ExoMars mission has a history of delay, financial difficulties and changing specifications.
That’s all for this week in space for Canada.

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