Canadian Space Exploration Technologies for Surface Mobility
Space agencies around the world are discussing how to coordinate the next phases of the space exploration program. As an active partner in this endeavor, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is focusing its efforts on developing space science and technologies that serve national priorities and play a niche role in international missions, including the robotic and human exploration of the solar system, and advanced exploration technology development.
With over three decades operating the iconic Canadarm on the Space Shuttle, and Canadarm2 and Dextre on board the International Space Station (ISS), Canada has earned an enviable international reputation for excellence in advanced space robotics. In order to prepare Canada for the next steps in the international exploration of space, the CSA has worked in collaboration with over 40 organizations from Canada's space industry and academia to design and build a fleet of terrestrial rovers that will serve as the forerunners of vehicles that may one day serve as proxies for exploring destinations like the Moon or Mars. Developing and testing prototypes and terrestrial rovers helps define the science and technology most likely to be required in future space exploration missions of interest to Canada, learn how to utilize the resources that may be present on site (e.g. extracting water from soil), assess potential contributions to such missions, and ensure that the technology is sufficiently mature when opportunities arise.
The following terrestrial rovers and their associated technologies are being used in a set of testing, demonstrations and deployment activities to assess and improve the developed technologies and ensure the mission objectives are achieved and refined. Canada's Economic Action Plan announced in Budget 2009 provided $110 million over three years for advance robotics and space exploration technologies, of which $60 million was allocated to the Exploration Surface Mobility project. These funds were invested in a total of 33 challenging high-technology contracts to over 40 Canadian companies and a dozen universities.
The CSA's Fleet of Rovers
Terrestrial prototypes of Lunar Rovers
The Juno rovers are actually a family of 5 individual rovers bearing the same name. These highly versatile rovers each consist of a base, three types of wheels and a set of tracks (similar to a snowmobile) to allow the rover to test science equipment in a variety of terrains. The sturdy rover can be operated remotely (tele-operated), is able to carry nearly as much as it weighs, and is surprisingly agile and quick. Juno rovers have been in operation since 2010, and received a significant upgrade with an investment under the Economic Action Plan. Juno rovers were successful deployed during two National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)-led field tests on the rocky slopes of a volcano to simulate missions to the Moon (2010, 2012).
Mass: 300 kg
Can carry 275 kg of science payloads
Max speed: 13 km/h (4 speeds)
Uses rubber, metal or iRings wheels or metal tracks
Can be linked in a tandem configuration
Prime Contractor: Neptec Design Group
$1.33 million was invested to upgrade the Juno rovers and increase their capabilities
Partners: Ontario Drive and Gear Ltd. (ODG), McGill University, CrossChasm Technologies, University of Ottawa.
Lunar Exploration Light Rover (New)
One of the CSA's new rovers, the Lunar Exploration Light Rover is designed to be a terrestrial prototype of a mobile Moon lab. It can be fitted with a robotic arm to allow it to scoop up samples for analysis on board. The largest and the fastest rover in the CSA's fleet, the six-wheel rover was also designed with the option of upgrading it to transport humans to test how astronauts might operate the rover while working on the surface of the Moon (much like the Moon buggy used during the Apollo missions). A long-range explorer that can roam up to 15 km from its home base, the rover can be tele-operated from a remote location, and is semi-autonomous (the rover uses its on-board lidar to scan its environment and navigate around obstacles without human assistance).
Mass: 900 kg
Can carry 300 kg of science payloads
Top speed: 15 km/h
Prime contractor: MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA)
Contract value: $14.6 million including SL-Commander (see below)
Partners: Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP), University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS)-ASRL (Autonomous Space Robotics Lab), Ryerson University, University of Western Ontario, York University, University of Winnipeg, University of British Columbia, McMaster University, Hamilton Sunstrand, University of Toronto, Turquoise Technology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Penguin ASI
One of the CSA's new rovers, Artemis is a light-weight terrestrial prototype of a lunar exploration rover. It can either be operated by a human nearby or at a remote location, or use its onboard sensors to scan its environment and navigate without the need for a human operator. Its unique wheel system makes it very nimble in tight spaces. The rover's wheels use skid-steering to turn (much like a tank), with the wheels on one side pushing while the opposite set pull. This allows the rover to spin 360 degrees on the same spot. Artemis's powerful battery can last for a full day of roving. The rover also carries a set of solar panels to power science instruments on board. Artemis has already completed its first field test in cooperation with NASA in July 2012.
Mass: 230 kg
Can carry up to 150 kg of science payloads
Max speed: 4 km/h
Prime contractor: Neptec Design Group
Contract value: $13.5 million
Partners: ODG, CrossChasm, COM DEV, NGC Aerospace, McGill University, ProtoInnovations, Provectus
Kapvik Micro-Rover (New)
Weighing in at a mere 40 kg, Kapvik (Innu for "Wolverine") is one of the CSA's two micro-rovers. Micro-rovers can work as helpers for humans (for instance, to help an astronaut dig) or even for other larger lunar rovers. Their small stature allows them to scout out tight spaces (like caves or crevices). Kapvik can even be tethered to a larger rover and lowered down slopes of up to 65 degrees (compare to the steepest ski jumps, which are no more than 40 degrees!).
Kapvik's robotic arm does double-duty as its mast, allowing the rover's sensors to scan and map its environment to search for minerals, water or ice. Once the fully autonomous rover spots an interesting target, it can make its own way to the site, deploy its robotic arm, dig a trench and deposit soil or rocks into the two small collection cans on either of its "shoulders".
Robotic mast and miniature imaging sensors
Rocker-bogie suspension system
Tele-operable and full autonomy
Travel range greater than 500 m
Unaided operations on slopes up to 30 degrees
Tethered operations on steep slopes up to 65 degrees
Robotic mast with end effector that enables acquisition of selected samples and subsurface trenching
Multispectral imaging UV-Vis/IR sensors provide in situ analysis and 2-D mapping of mineralogy, water/ice content and planetary resources
Prime contractor: MPB Communications
Contract value: $2 million
Partners: Carleton University, Ryerson University, UTIAS, MDA, University of Winnipeg, Xiphos Technologies
Micro-Rover Platform with Tooling Arm (New)
One of the CSA's two micro-rovers, this pint-sized rover can act as a helper robot for an astronaut or work in tandem with a larger rover. Micro-rovers can be used to investigate small spaces where larger rovers or humans can't fit. A micro-rover can even be tethered to a larger rover so that it can travel down slopes of up to 65 degrees. This pint-sized rover's special talent is its ability to travel over rocky terrain. It can be modified to use wheels or tracks as needed, and can even lower or raise its centre of gravity for increased stability on tricky terrain.
30 kg micro-rover platform with tooling arm well-suited for scouting, sample return and science exploration
Travel range greater than 500 m
Unaided operations on slopes up to 30 degrees
Tethered operations on steep slopes up to 65 degrees
Variable and modular configuration provides added flexibility for a variety of operational scenarios over rocky terrains
Navigation system allows remote, autonomous or collaborative control mode
Prime contractor: Engineering Services Inc.
Contract value: $2.15 million
Partners: Cohort Systems Inc (formerly Frontline Robotics), York University
Terrestrial prototypes of Mars Rovers
Rex (short for Robot EXplorer) is a terrestrial rover designed to simulate collecting rock and soil samples on the surface of Mars. Named following a national contest with History TV, the six-wheeled rover can drive over obstacles as high as 15 cm, and is equipped with a robotic arm. Rex can carry up to 30 kg of science equipment to scoop up rocks and soil. It successfully completed its first Earth-bound mission in a joint field-test with NASA at the Flagstaff Meteor Crater in Arizona in 2010.
Size (L x W x H): 152 x 142 x 76 cm
Mass: 140 Kg
6 Wheel: 6 (aluminium or rubber)
Can carry up to 30 kg of science payloads
Nominal speed: 4 cm/sec
Obstacle Clearance: 15 cm
Slope Climbing: 10 degrees
Prime Contractor: MDA
Contract value: approx $1.3 million
Mars Exploration Science Rover (New)
The Mars Exploration Science Rover is one of the CSA's new terrestrial prototypes, and is much like a robotic geologist for conducting science on the surface of the Red Planet, especially for a mission to return samples from the Red Planet for study on Earth. The solar powered six-wheeled rover is designed to operate with a robotic arm with a microscope and mini-corer on the end to drill into rocks to analyze their composition, and retrieve interesting samples for study.
Partners: BRP, UTIAS-ASRL, UTIAS-Space Flight Laboratory (SFL), The University of Western Ontario, McGill University, Memorial University, Brock University, York University, University of Winnipeg, Turquoise Technology
The CSA has also the following scientific instruments and technical equipment for its fleet of rovers:
Small Manipulator Arm: A robotic arm with 1-metre reach, 6 degrees of freedom, and 1 mm accuracy. The arm can be mounted any of the CSA's rovers. (Prime contractor: Engineering Services Inc. Contract value: $2 million.)
Planetary Medium Manipulator: A robotic arm with 7 degrees of freedom and a reach of 2.3 metres. Designed to move a payload or tool with a mass of 10 kg, accuracy of a few millimetres (Prime contractor: Engineering Services Inc. Contract value: $3.2 million.)
3D Exploration Multispectral Microscope: A high-resolution microscope capable of taking 3D colour pictures to investigate the structure and morphology of soil samples and rock surfaces by taking high-resolution colour images. The microscope can be placed on end of the Mars Exploration Science Rover's robotic arm. (Prime contractor: MDA. Contract value: $1.45 million.)
Mini-Corer: A small drill that operates at the end of a robotic arm on a rover to acquire samples from rocks and soil, with a planned core size of 15 cm long and 1 cm diameter. The mini-corer can be placed on the end of the Mars Exploration Science's robotic arm to work in tandem with the microscope. (Prime contractor: NORCAT. Contract value: $2.16 million.)
Miniaturized Drilling System: A drilling system to collect, retrieve, and transfer samples with a minimum penetration of 1 metre below the surface while maintaining the volatiles of the sample throughout the entire process. The drill was part of a a NASA-led field test in July 2012. (Prime contractor: NORCAT. Contract value: $2.8 million.)
Next-Generation Communications System: This system enables local short-range and long-range telecommunication on a planet or the moon. (Prime contractor: MDA. Contract value: $1.2 million.)
Vision Systems: Four distinct next-generation vision systems were developed to integrate and improve rover navigation, imaging and geological sampling and recognition. (Prime contractors for each contract: Neptec: contract value $500,000; MDA: $500,000; Neptec: 1.5 million; Optech: 1.5 million).
Simulator: A real-time simulator was developed for to plan maneuvering and simulating rover operations. (Prime contractor: CM Labs. Contract value $300,000.)
Under subcontract with MDA for the Lunar Exploration Light Rover, BRP developed this electrical version of the commercially available BRP Commander. It is a fully automated electric all-terrain vehicle that is able to navigate and drive itself, with or without a human!
1,100 kg vehicle
200 kg payload
40 km/h max speed
The fuel cell is a mobile power plant. It is a power source for various experiments and rovers. It was developed to enhance expertise in the use of fuel cells based upon already well evolved knowledge and experience in fuel cell applications. It will be available for later fuel cell integration efforts on both mining mobility systems, green power, grid equalization and on lunar and Mars systems Technology.
Prime contractor: Hydrogenics
Contract value: $ 1.5 million
The Q6 is essentially a tiny but powerful mini-computer. It is the latest in a line of spaceflight-ready modular computer processor cards with low power consumption. It can be used as a stand-alone processor card, or in a "Q-Stack" with one or more cards.
Q6 is embedded in several CSA payload prototypes and is being used by NASA, ESA and JAXA. Four units are flying in space and are under real flight operations.