Monday, October 15, 2018

AI is Hot and Even Gets Government Funding From the Canadian Space Agency

          By Chuck Black

Although the participants at several upcoming events over the next few weeks are expected to strongly lobby the Federal government to provide new funding for space focused projects, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has just gone out of its way to remind applicants that, while Federal funding for artificial intelligence (AI) is hot (even when the AI firms being funded are actually space companies), Federal funding for space activities is not.

As outlined in the October 15th, 2018 CSA press release, "Strengthening Canada's leadership in AI-driven robotics to support jobs," the CSA:
... is positioning Canada's space community to maintain its global leadership in space robotics. 
Accordingly, the CSA announced today that it is investing $1.6Mln CDN in two concepts for lunar rovers that would use artificial intelligence (AI) to make their own decisions. 
According to the press release, Brampton ON based MDA, a subsidiary of Westminster CO based Maxar Technologies and Caledon ON based Canadensys Aerospace Corporation have each been awarded a contract worth $800 000 CDN to develop innovative rovers using AI concepts for the CSA. The contracts awarded will support sixty-one "well-paying jobs" and position Canada to play an important role in future missions to the Moon.

But for the rest of us, we'll need to find private sector partners. 

The CSA made their latest announcement at the start of a three-day CSA "Industry Days" event to promote Canadian space capabilities to major space companies, including Kent WA based Blue Origin, Ottobrunn, Germany based Airbus Defense and Space and  Cape Canaveral FL based Moon Express. More than forty-four organizations are expected to attend the event from October 15th - 17th and over 70 business-to-business meetings are expected to take place, according to the press release.

Hopefully, some of those meetings will generate deals.

This is not the first time the Federal government has favored funding AI development over space activities.

As outlined most recently in the October 9th, 2018 post, "Creative Destruction Lab Receives $25Mln CDN from Federal Government for AI, Start-up Infrastructure and Jobs," the Federal Liberal government is heavily promoting AI investments.

As for MDA and Canadensys, they've both received previous funding from the CSA for rovers and can be reasonably expected to go after any new funding. Expect both to apply for the September 20th, 2018 CSA Announcement of Opportunity (AO) "Lunar Exploration Analogue Deployment (LEAD) – Capability Demonstration." 

The program objectives, worth $250,000 CDN over a maximum period of 24 months, are:
  • To advance complementary community lunar science and/or technology that can benefit from test and capability demonstration at the Lunar Exploration Analogue Deployment (LEAD) analogue site and
  • To train project managers, engineers, scientists, post-doc fellows and technicians plus support the development of Canadian industrial capabilities in the area of space technologies for the purpose of increasing the commercial potential of Canadian space companies.
Expect either MDA or Canadensys to be awarded the latest AO, sometime after it closes on October 26th, 2018. After all, as outlined in the AO, "there will be financial support for only one project awarded to one recipient as a result of this AO."

Of course, several private sector players, including Cape Canaveral based Moon Express, might eventually end up taking up the slack. As outlined in the October 16th, 2018 Moon Express press release, "Moon Express Expands Into Canada With The Establishment Of Moon Express Canada And New Partnerships," the company has opened up a new Canadian office and signed up several local partners,

But as outlined in the April 30th, 2018 post, "NASA Resource Prospector Cancellation "Disappointing" Says Deltion Innovations CEO Boucher," the September 26th, 2016 post, "The REAL Reason Why Canada Won't Be Participating in the NASA Resolve Mission Anytime Soon, Probably!," and the October 20th, 2012 post, "Lots and Lots of Rovers Looking for Missions," the CSA has a long history of supporting lunar rover programs which never go anywhere.

So lets wait and see what happens this time.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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