Monday, August 18, 2014

Canadian Space Agency Gears up to Fund More Rovers

          by Chuck Black

After spending the month of August funding various Earth imaging applications, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is preparing to fund three rover projects costing $600K, $300K and $3.2Mln CDN.

The Argo J5 Mobility platform being demonstrated at the University of Toronto Institute of Aerospace Studies MarsDome facility on February 20th, 2014. Directly behind the orange J5 is a grey JUNO mobility platform (J1) and a J4 Rover, which is currently the basis of the Artemis Jr., the chassis of choice for the proposed NASA Resolve mission. To the left is a second ARGO J5 rover equipped with ODG’s lunar wheel prototype, optimized for harsh conditions.  Both the JUNO and Artemis Jr. Rovers were developed under a series of CSA contracts by New Hamburg based Ontario Drive and Gear (ODG). ODG is considered one of the front runners to receive the next round of Canadian rover funding. Photo c/o author.

As outlined on the Public Works and Government Services Canada website, the three "notices of tender" are as follows:
  • The ExCore small planetary rover platform (9F052-140062/A) - This is a single $600,000 CDN contract disbursed through the CSA's Exploration Core (ExCore) program for a functional, small, four wheeled planetary rover platform with skid-steering, fully passive suspension, which is manually lockable, and has a basic power system along with a power & mechanical interface to accommodate small exploration surface mobility (ESM) payloads. The tender closes on September 4th, 2014 and the period of the contract will extend from December 1st, 2014 to December 1st, 2015, which likely means that the award will be announced later this year.
  • The lunar polar rover night survival strategy (LPRNSS) concept study (9F052-140125/A) - This is a single $300,000 CDN contract, also disbursed through the CSA's ExCore program, to develop alternative heat sources for a lunar rover, with the intention of protecting the rover from the low temperatures which occur during a lunar night in the lunar polar region. This is one of the biggest challenges at the current state of unmanned lunar exploration, although, as outlined in the February 14th, 2014 article "Has China's Ailing Moon Rover Survived 2nd Lunar Night," others may have developed a solution. This tender will close on September 18th, 2014, but the period of the contract is undefined and only listed as extending from the "date of issue for a period of six (6) months."
  • The lunar rover drive-train prototype (LRPDP) platform (9F052-140053/A) - This is the big project for Canadian rover manufacturers; a $3.25Mln CDN contract, also disbursed through the CSA's ExCore program, to develop a slightly larger, but still functional lunar rover platform & drive train prototype (LRPDP), able to be subjected to rigorous testing. But you'd best hurry to apply for this; the tender closes on August 29th, 2014 and the period of the contract is listed as being from September 22nd, 2014 to December 18th, 2015.
As outlined most recently in the October 20th, 2012 post "Lots and Lots of Rovers Looking for Missions," the last round of funding for the Canadian rover program was part of the 2009 Economic Action Plan, which allocated $110Mln CDN over three years to the CSA for development of the next generation Canadarm (which received $53.1Mln CDN) and for Canadian rovers (which received most of the rest). The CSA funding for the Canadian rovers ran out on March 31st, 2012.

It's unlikely that the latest round of rover funding will be enough to fund a completely new rover. So expect the winner of the current tenders to end up being some of the same organizations which ended up being funded in the last funding round. 

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