Sunday, April 10, 2016

Deltion Innovations Receives Gov't Funding to Develop Multi-Tool for Space Mining; Will Anyone Buy It?

          By Chuck Black

For a man who had officially "hit the jackpot" by being awarded $700,000 CDN from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to build a "multi-purpose tool for shallow depth drilling on the Moon and other celestial bodies," Deltion Innovations CEO Dale Boucher seemed somewhat less than sanguine.

"Don't you understand. If we don't tell the CSA to invest in something which isn't simply another variation of the existing satellite technology we've been building for the last fifty years, then we'll be left behind technologically as other nations move out into space," he said during a phone interview last Wednesday.

Wednesday in Sudbury. Deltion CEO Boucher with MP's Marc Serré (LIB Nickel Belt) and Paul A. Lefebvre (LIB Sudbury) making the announcement that Deltion had received $70,000 CDN funding from the CSA to build a space "multi-purpose tool." Photo c/o @MarcSerreMP

As outlined in the April 6th, 2016 Bay Today article, "Deltion Innovations lands contract to build multi-purpose tool for building and drilling in space," the newly funded Deltion Innovations' percussive and rotary multi-purpose tool (PROMPT) will be able to drill into the moon or Mars at small depths – around 10 centimeters – to collect samples for analysis.

As outlined in the February 5th, 2014 post, "Canadian Government Funds Proposed Lunar Drill," NASA is considering PROMPT for its proposed (but so far unfunded) Resource Prospector Mission.

But PROMPT is also an appropriate tool for a variety of other proposed and scheduled space missions expected over the next few years. These include the missions proposed by asteroid mining companies Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries, along with the missions proposed by several of the competitors involved with the Google Lunar X-Prize such as Astrobotic and Moon Express.

Of course, CSA funding doesn't guarantee that any specific tool or technology developed in Canada will sell on the open market. 

And Ottawa has rolled out programs like this in the past which sometimes haven't gone anywhere,

As outlined in the February 23rd, 2014 post, "Canadian Firm Plans to Corner the Worldwide Rover Chassis Market," the most recent attempt was New Hamburg based Ontario Drive and Gear's (ODG) quest to pitch  a Canadian rover for the proposed NASA Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatiles Extraction (RESOLVE) mission to hunt for water on the Moon in 2017. That quest is still ongoing. 

Lessons our space agency should learn. A fascinating, although not often publicly available comment, from the March 21st, 2016 Space Review article, "Review: Moon Shot," which discussed the Google Lunar X-Prize and Moon Shot, the recently released a series of promotional films focused around the competition. Screen shot c/o Space Review

And that's why Boucher is concerned. "Private industry is moving forward and becoming less about geo-science and more about the appropriate use of the correct geo-technology for commercial ventures."

He's worried that the traditional focus of the CSA, as simply a component manufacturer for larger programs originating with the space agencies of other nations, is a sadly outdated concept in an era where even medium sized corporations like SpaceX can drive their own space programs towards the creation of reusable launch vehicles and the colonization of Mars.

As outlined in the April 10th, 2016 Washington Post article, "What SpaceX’s landing means for commercial space travel,"  the audience watching SpaceX’s live web broadcast of its launch from Cape Canaveral on Friday "was treated to a show that until just a few years ago was widely discounted as impossible — the vertical landing of the Falcon 9 rocket, which used its engine thrust to slow down and touch softly on a boat in the Atlantic Ocean."

Meanwhile, back in Canada, and if all goes according to plan, Deltion could be testing its PROMPT, multi-purpose tool prototype by Christmas.

The company is subcontracting with two other Ontario based companies – Neptec Design Group, based in Kanata, ON and Atlas Copco, in North Bay, to work on the PROMPT project.

It's probably a pretty good multi-purpose tool as these things go, able to work remotely at extreme distances and under extreme temperatures. It's likely a far better multi-tool than the ones you can buy at Canadian Tire.

Chuck Black.
But still...

Here's hoping that Boucher's comments push a couple of his colleagues and a few of the other multi-purpose tools currently working at the CSA to start working on items with a little more vision.

Canada's space future depends on it.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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