NASA’s ambitious Lunar Gateway program has gone international. Canada has committed to contributing 2 billion Canadian dollars ($1.4 billion) over 24 years to the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway program, which NASA hopes will become a human residency in orbit around the moon.
NASA hopes the orbital outpost will generate “activity with commercial and international partners and help us explore the Moon and its resources,” according to William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, at NASA Headquarters. Ultimately, he says, NASA will be able to use the Gateway as midpoint for “human missions to Mars.”
Canada’s contribution to the Lunar Gateway will be primarily be upkeep. Given that the Gateway will not permanently house astronauts, as is the case with the International Space Station, this upkeep will keep the station functional. The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) will develop a smart robotic system known as Canadarm3 that will repair and maintain the lunar outpost.
Photos: Adam Scotti pic.twitter.com/tDngkrn380
— CanadianSpaceAgency (@csa_asc) February 28, 2019
Space has the unique ability to inspire Canadians. Today @JustinTrudeau announced that Canada will be participating in a NASA-led project called Lunar Gateway, which will see humans return to the moon! ?? #DareToExplore @Astro_Jenni @Astro_Jeremy @MarcGarneau pic.twitter.com/1dezUh2ANK
— Navdeep Bains (@NavdeepSBains) February 28, 2019
“Canadarm was essential to the space shuttle, Canadarm 2 built the International Space Station, so it’s only fitting and right that the arm that will repair and maintain the Lunar Gateway will yet again be made in Canada by Canadians,” said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, announcing the partnership at the Canadian Space Agency in the Montreal suburb of Longueuil.
Canadarm 2, alongside its robotic hand known as Dextre, has helped astronauts during spacewalks, deployed tiny CubeSats, performs experiments and other essential tasks.
The new system, Canadarm3, will expand on those capabilities with enhanced A.I systems. The CSA’s website says that “Canada’s smart robotic system and other autonomous computer systems will tend to the Gateway when no humans are on board, including operating science experiments aboard the lunar outpost.”
Human habitation in the Lunar Gateway is planned to begin in 2024. In the meantime, Trudeau’s government anticipates Canadarm3 will generate “hundreds of well-paying jobs” and an addition of $100 million annually to Canada’s gross domestic product.
In addition to the development of Canadarm3, the government also announced $150 million over five years in support for a new Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program, which according to a press release “will help small and medium-sized businesses in Canada develop new technologies to be used and tested in lunar orbit and on the Moon’s surface in fields that include artificial intelligence, robotics, and health.”
“Thanks to this investment, our Canadian astronauts will have access to new space missions, inspiring generations to come. The Canadian space community will maintain global leadership in robotics, and capitalize on our world-leading expertise in AI, and health,” says Canada’s Innovation Minister, Navdeep Bains. Bains also called space exploration a “national asset and a source of pride” for the country.
International collaboration is often a goal for NASA, and Administrator Jim Bridenstine welcomed the partnership.
“Canada’s technologic achievement as part of Gateway lunar outpost will be a part of creating the vital backbone for commercial and other international partnerships to get to the Moon and eventually to Mars,” Bridenstine said in a press statement. “We are thrilled to work with Canada on the next generation of its robotics to help carry out incredible missions at the Gateway lunar outpost and to collaborate in our future on the lunar surface and deep space.”
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics