Monday, December 01, 2014

New CSA Rover Contracts Worth Over $3.28Mln CDN Uncovered

          by Brian Orlotti

After much hemming and hawing, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has confirmed the winners of three request for proposals (RFP's) for Moon/Mars rover development issued in August 2014.

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 ODG. Photo c/o Chuck Black.

Two contracts, the first one worth $689,666.04 CDN along with a second larger award for approximately $2.25 Mln CDN, have been issued to New Hamburg based Ontario Drive and Gear (ODG) while a third contract, worth $344,925 CDN has been awarded to the Brampton, Ontario location of Richmond, BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA). 

The contracts were disbursed via the CSA Exploration Core (ExCore) program. The original RFP's were first discussed in the August 18th, 2014 post, "Canadian Space Agency Gears up to Fund More Rovers."

Begun in 2007, the ExCore program's purpose is to prepare Canada for space exploration activities beyond the International Space Station (ISS) by developing key technologies including Moon/Mars rovers, on-orbit servicing, active vision systems (for spacecraft rendezvous and navigation), in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) (i.e. drills) and surface power/communications systems.

The awarding of the three contracts was made public via the Public Works and Government Services Canada website at The details are as follows:
  • The ExCore small planetary rover platform (9F052-140062/A) – A $689,666.04 CDN contract for a functional, small, four wheeled planetary rover platform with skid-steering, a fully passive & manually lockable suspension, a basic power system and power & mechanical interfaces to accommodate small exploration surface mobility (ESM) payloads which was awarded to ODG. 
  • The Lunar polar rover night survival strategy (LPRNSS) concept study (9F052-140125/A) - A $344,925 CDN contract to develop an alternative (i.e. non-radioactive) heat source for a lunar rover, with the goal of protecting a rover from the low temperatures which occur at night in the Moon's polar regions. This is currently one of the biggest challenges of robotic lunar exploration and was awarded to the Brampton office of MDA, which focuses on robotics.
  • The Lunar rover drive-train prototype (LRPDP) platform (9F052-140053/001/MTB) – A $2.25 Mln CDN project for Canadian manufacturers to develop a large Lunar Rover Platform & Drive train Prototype (LRPDP), to be subjected to rigorous testing. Awarded to Ontario Drive & Gear of New Hamburg, Ontario.
According to ODG space/ robotics manager Peter Visscher, "ODG and its partners are thrilled to remain involved with the ExCore program. The CSA has been a great partner in the development and commercialization of our J5 rover. ODG feels that it has put together a 'dream team' of exceptional partners for this project."

The ODG rover “dream team” includes:
  • The Centre des Technologies Avancées (CTA) of Sherbrooke, Quebec, a joint venture of the University of Sherbrooke and Bombardier Recreational Products (for simulation of rover suspension and drive train)
Both ODG and MDA have been core contributors to CSA rover development, since the last round of rover funding was announced in 2010.

The latest round of awards was confirmed through a phone call with CSA representative Esther Paquin on November 28th, 2014. Paquin was listed as the CSA contact in the original documentation for the three RFP's. 

Brian Orlotti.
The awarding of the ExCore rover contracts will lay the groundwork for future Canadian space exploration as well as help commercialize Canadian space technology; a win-win scenario if ever there was one.

Brian Orlotti is a Toronto-based IT professional and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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