Canada is targeting the moon as its next step for human exploration. While this is not a new objective more details are available after NASA hosted the Human Exploration Workshop as part of the Global Exploration Roadmap.
The meeting of the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) was held in San Diego between November 14-16 and brought together over 100 participants from 14 space agencies. The workshop was divided into four panels:
- Panel One: Asteroid Next Scenario
- Panel Two: Moon Next Scenario
- Panel Three: Near-Term Implementation Ideas, Strategies, and Plans
- Panel Four: Discussion of Workshop Inputs to GER and Potential Implementation Strategies
Canada was represented on each panel except the Asteroid Next Scenario. From government, Canada was represented by Jean-Claude Piedboeuf, Director, Space Exploration Development of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) who was on the Moon and Near-term panels. From industry, Canada was represented by Christian Sallaberger, Vice-President & Director, Space Exploration, MDA who was on the Near-Term panel and Iain Christie, CEO, Neptec Design Group who was on the Moon panel.
Jean-Claude Piedboeuf made three presentations. The first on the status of Canada's space exploration program, the second on the Moon Next Scenario and the third on Near-Term Implementation Ideas, Strategies, and Plans.
The first presentation didn't include anything new but did outline Canada's exploration destinations as:
1) Near Earth Orbit
- Focus on the International Space Station(ISS) & on-orbit robotics
2) Beyond Earth Orbit
- Robotic exploration of Mars
- Robotic and human exploration of the Moon
- Opportunistic missions to asteroids & other planetary bodies
3)Solar System & the Universe
- Using astronomy
What's interesting is Canada's interest in human exploring of the moon, as in Canadian astronauts. This is not a short term goal, but after focusing on the ISS, it's part of the next step of robotic and then human exploration of the moon and is considered a Canadian exploration objective. It would lead eventually to a permanent presence on the moon. And while Canada has this as an objective, it has no plans to do it alone. After all, this group exists so that nations interested can work together towards this common objective.
At this time there is no timeline for a human mission to the moon by the nations involved in this effort other than China stating it plans to go ahead with a human moon mission at some point.
For Canada the next step towards the moon is participation in the European Space Agency's Lunar Lander currently scheduled for launch in 2018 with a target of the moon's south pole where an abundance of water is suspected.
At this moment a Phase-B1 study is underway in Germany and should be concluded in February. The study will culminate with a Preliminary System Requirements Review and will provide the basis for the final design of the mission and lander. Canada is one of the countries funding this study.
The CSA sees the moon as the next frontier and that it should be included in the Earth's economic sphere. The CSA also sees governments as the initial customers as industry is unlikely to take the risk.
For the CSA the moon offers long-term opportunities for Canadian astronauts, Canadian technologies and commercial services. It's clear that while governments may be the initial customers, according to the CSA, commercial and government partnerships will be the next step.
Unfortunately for the CSA, industry has some problems with the current roadmap.
The roadmap, still in its infancy, projects a long timeline with only one moon mission before 2020, the ESA Luna Lander, for which Canadian industry might be a participant in. With stimulus money about to run out there's no program available for industry at this time to keep its workforce employed in some of the technologies that might be used on a future moon mission. This in essence was pointed out by Christian Sallaberger of MDA during his presentation. He stated that there is a good foundation but that there urgently is the need for a 1st step.
The one other project Canada could contribute rover technology to before 2020 is the multinational ExoMars rover. However that project is in a state of flux right now as the U.S. commitment has changed this past year with the cancellation of its MAX-C rover and Russian was being brought into the project. It's unclear at this time if Canada will provide any components to the rover.
As with the RADARSAT Constellation Mission and the CSA handing out small contracts over time to keep the project moving forward, we might see the same approach for the moon. That at least would keep some of industries labour force employed.
While the roadmap is not finished, the basic foundation is slowly taking shape. Should it mature and elements such as precursor missions move forward it could lead the way for Canadian technology and then astronauts to head to the moon.
For Canada's two newest astronauts, David Saint-Jacques and Jeremy Hansen, this presents them with the possibility that they might one day walk on the moon. For a future Canadian astronaut class, the possibility of going to the moon or beyond is quite real.
More importantly though, Canada might be positioned to be an industrial player in the international exploration of the moon and beyond. That's an objective worth working towards.