CSA grant backs Western Space rover tech

Western will play a key role in humanity’s return to the Moon, thanks to a major investment by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in a university-led advancement that could represent a flagship Canadian contribution to international missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

On Tuesday, Western’s Institute for Earth and Space Exploration (Western Space) received $690,123 from CSA to develop an integrated vision system used for identification of the geology of the lunar surface and for rover navigation.

In total, the space agency awarded seven contracts worth a total of $4.36 million to five companies and one university to advance concepts for nano- and micro-rovers, as well as autonomous science instruments. These advancements will serve as the first steps towards landing and conducting Canadian science on the surface of the Moon, CSA officials said.

“Our government is positioning Canada’s space sector to reach for the Moon – and beyond,” said Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, in making the announcement Tuesday. “This investment will help Canadian businesses bring their technologies to market, creating opportunities for them to join the growing space economy while supporting Canada to achieve world firsts in space science and exploration.”

Mounted on a rover for lunar surface operations, the integrated vision system consists of an integrated multi-wavelength LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) and multispectral imager to provide 360-degree data collection. The primary goal of the instrument will be to characterize the lunar surface and support the selection of return samples to Earth.

A multispectral LIDAR would provide a unique advantage for exploring the Moon, since cameras can only provide images of an area that is directly illuminated by sun light, which is absent on the Moon. By combining multispectral imaging capabilities with LIDAR, this remote-sensing method could revolutionize planetary surface operations for both scientific applications and rover guidance, navigation, and control.

“Winning this contract marks a major step towards achieving one of our institute’s goals of launching Western into space,” said Gordon ‘Oz’ Osinski, Western Space Director. “The world is focused on returning to the Moon with robots and humans in the next few years and to think that Western faculty and students may play an integral role in developing the instrument that will be the eyes of lunar rovers is incredibly exciting.”

Osinski, along with Western Space Associate Director (Training and Education) Jayshri Sabarinathan and Research Scientist Livio Tornabene, led the successful bid. The project team also includes several postdoctoral students and graduate students from Science and Engineering.

Western Space is also collaborating with MDA Vision Systems and Sensors on developing the Integrated Vision System.

This project is funded by CSA’s Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program (LEAP), which is preparing Canada’s space sector for humanity’s return to the Moon by earmarking $150 million over five years to help small and medium-sized businesses in Canada develop new technologies that could be used and tested in lunar orbit and on the Moon’s surface in fields that include artificial intelligence, robotics and health.

Beyond Western, the contracts awarded included:

  • ABB (Quebec) will receive $693,193 to design, build and test the prototype for an autonomous lunar exploration infrared spectrometer that will remotely measure and study the mineralogical composition of the Moon’s surface;
  • Bubble Technology Industries Inc. (Ontario) will receive $698,321 to develop a spectrometer that will autonomously search for hydrogen to indicate the presence of water and ice near the Moon’s surface;
  • Canadensys Aerospace Corporation (Ontario) will receive two contracts worth a total of $1,099,366 to develop concept designs, technologies and prototypes for two different classes of small Canadian lunar science rovers – a nano-rover and a micro-rover;
  • Magellan Aerospace (Manitoba) will receive $607,258 to develop a lunar impactor probe that will deliver instruments to the surface of the Moon, including sensors to detect water in the permanently shadowed regions of the Moon; and
  • Mission Control Space Services Inc. (Ontario) will receive $573,829 to advance an Autonomous Soil Assessment System as an AI-based science support tool for rovers navigating on the Moon.