|NORCAT HQ in Sudbury.Photo c/o Northern Life.|
by Brian Orlotti
The department at the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology (NORCAT) responsible for space technology development has been spun-off as Deltion Innovations Ltd.
Mining is not an activity the public usually associates with space, but NORCAT, a trade school/R&D centre for the Canadian mining industry located in Sudbury, ON, has had a solid track record of innovation in this field. Since 1999, NORCAT’s Prototype Development Department (PDD) has developed terrestrial and space mining systems and enabled technology transfer between the mining and space sectors.
|The CSA Artemis Jr. rover holds the Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatiles Extraction (RESOLVE) instruments.|
The team has worked with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and NASA to develop a drill called the Regolith and Environment Science and Oxygen and Lunar Volatile Extraction (RESOLVE) for use in the 2018 Resource Prospector mission. A joint effort between the CSA and NASA, the mission will send a robotic rover to the Moon in an attempt to extract water ice from its polar regions and process it into liquid water on site. The PDD has also helped the CSA and NASA in developing a lunar regolith (soil) simulant for research purposes. This past summer, however, NORCAT chose to end all development of space mining technology. The PDD, wishing to preserve a capability it considered unique to Canada (and, perhaps, the world), formed a private firm, Deltion Innovations Ltd.
Sudbury, ON based Deltion (whose name derives from the Greek word for ‘writing tablet’) is primarily focused on the field of In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU). In simplest terms, ISRU is the idea of using the resources found in space (i.e. the Moon, Mars, asteroids, etc.) to achieve a goal in space. Examples of this include using solar cells to harness solar energy for power, extracting gasses from a planet’s atmosphere to make air and fuel, or mining asteroids to extract metals for construction. ISRU’s main selling point is its potential to vastly reduce the costs of human space exploration. By using the resources found in space, you reduce the need to bring them along on powerful rockets, which require vast quantities of expensive fuel.
|New Deltion CEO Dale Boucher at the 2010 Planetary and Terrestrial Mining Science Symposium (PTMSS2010). As outlined on the ISRU Info website, the PTMSS events will continue under the Deltion label.|
Space advocates, seeing the great cost-saving potential, spent decades vainly imploring NASA to adopt ISRU for future human missions. NASA, rejecting ISRU as too risky, continued to design traditional, prohibitively expensive missions. In the past decade, however, ISRU has gained wider acceptance, particularly in the private sector. Firms like Moon Express, Planetary Resources, Deep Space Industries and Golden Spike have all announced mission plans with ISRU at their core.
In an interview with Deltion’s CEO, Dale Boucher, some of the company’s current projects were outlined. They included:
- A just-completed concept study for a mission based on the RESOLVE project for the CSA (in partnership with Neptec Design Group of Ottawa) which would involve a sample acquisition system for the south pole of the Moon.
- Development of mining automation equipment, with trials expected to begin soon.
- Developing solutions to the problems facing the mining industry as it attempts to tap the vast mineral resources of the volcanic regions of the Pacific Ocean; the so-called ‘Ring of Fire.’
Deltion Innovations, by porting the experience and know-how of the mining sector to the realm of space, will help achieve an interesting symmetry; the knowledge gained from the world beneath the ground will help us to harness the world above the clouds.