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Canada Joins NASA in Return to the Moon

Canada will join the Lunar Gateway program, a major international initiative led by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to return to the Moon. Canada will provide artificial intelligence-based robotics for the Lunar Gateway, extending the Canadarm program for another generation. In addition to the Lunar Gateway announcement, the government announced a number of other space initiatives and committed to unveiling a long-term space strategy in the coming days. Canada’s commitment to the Lunar Gateway program totals CAD $2.05 billion over 24 years.

The Lunar Gateway will be a Moon-orbiting outpost that will support persistent human activity on the lunar surface and serve as short-term habitat for astronauts, a communications node, a science laboratory and a staging ground for exploration into deeper space. The first elements of the Lunar Gateway will launch in 2022, and construction will take place over the next several years.  

“We are extremely pleased to see the Government of Canada continue our country’s leadership role on the international space team, and to advance Canada’s unique world leadership position in space robotics,” said Mike Greenley, Group President of MDA. “MDA is honoured to have been the provider of space robotics to the Canadian government for over 35 years on the Space Shuttle program and the International Space Station.”

The “Canadarm3” robotics on the Lunar Gateway will be essential for critical operations and maintenance of this new international space station, on both the outside and inside of the station, and will consist of a larger manipulator arm and a smaller dexterous arm. Whereas the current International Space Station (ISS) operates approximately 400 kilometres from Earth, the Lunar Gateway will orbit the Moon approximately 400,000 kilometres from Earth, requiring a significant advancement in robotic and autonomous control systems and capabilities. Because of this great distance, the highly specialized Canadian contribution to the Lunar Gateway program will leverage the Canadian industrial base expertise in both space robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) – two areas where Canadian firms and academic organizations are established international leaders.

“Over 500 companies across Canada participated in the ISS robotics program,” added Mr. Greenley. “We expect a similarly robust and diverse pan-Canadian supply chain will form to execute Canada’s commitment to the Lunar Gateway, including Canada’s strong AI community.”

MDA has conducted a number of early concept studies for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) on the Lunar Gateway robotics solution over the past several years, as well as a survey of Canadian firms that could be engaged to deliver this capability. In 2018, MDA conducted its own industry day to meet with key industrial suppliers across Canada to explore this potential space robotics opportunity. MDA estimates that the Lunar Gateway program will create 10,000 person-years of employment over the duration of the program.

MDA has been part of an initiative called Don’t Let Go Canada, a coalition of close to 70 space companies, associations, student groups, academia and labour that has called on the government to announce a long-term space strategy and investment in Canada’s space program in order to extend Canada’s leadership in space, secure tomorrow’s STEM jobs and to position Canada to succeed in the emerging $1 trillion commercial space economy.

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