The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is working with its national and international partners to prepare the science and technology required for the next chapter of space exploration: sending humans to more distant destinations like the Moon and Mars.
Part of preparing for potential roles in these future missions is advancing technologies in areas of strength for Canada, like artificial intelligence, robotics and healthcare. This includes putting equipment through its paces before sending it to distant destinations.
Simulating missions to advance readiness of science and technology
Scientists and engineers conduct field tests and more extensive "analogue deployments" to gain knowledge and hands-on experience. These "out-in-the-field" exercises aim to put rover prototypes in harsh environments to test navigation systems, practise collecting samples, validate the time and tools needed to execute specific rover operations, and identify possible problems.
Simulating space missions here on Earth, with realistic conditions and constraints, is very effective in refining technology, testing science protocols, and learning how all the systems required to explore new worlds can come together to work harmoniously in space.
Did you know?
On the Moon, the Sun shines for about 14 consecutive days, during which it is around 100 °C, followed by about 14 days of darkness, when temperatures can dip to around 150 °C. This cycle corresponds to the lunar phases, which are clearly visible from Earth. Lunar rovers must survive and perform in these extreme conditions, which is why they are tested so thoroughly on Earth.
The goal of a sample-return mission is to collect and return samples from another planet or celestial body to Earth for analysis by scientists. A typical sample-return mission includes three phases:
- Sample selection and collection, where a rover would select the samples, collect them and leave them at a specific site.
- Sample retrieval and transfer, where a second rover would go to the selected site, pick up the samples and bring them back to a rocket or ascent vehicle.
- Sample return, where a rocket would send previously collected samples into orbit to be captured by another spacecraft for return to Earth.
In partnership with academia, industries and other international space agencies, the CSA tested two of these phases in two different mission simulations:
Technology developed for space is often useful on Earth as well. The advancement of autonomous and remote navigation controls on rovers, as well as hardware and batteries that can withstand low temperatures, has applications for rover and drone operations in remote and extreme areas like the far north.
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