It is one small step for Bubble Technology Industries (BTI), a research and development firm based in Chalk River, but it is giant leap for Canada as BTI is part of the team that has received a $43 million contract from the Canadian government to design and build Canada’s first lunar rover which will carry multiple science payloads to the Moon as early as 2026.
For the first time in history, a Canadian rover will explore the Moon and help in the international search for water ice, a key component needed for the future of human space exploration. BTI will be along for the ride into space and its role in the historic mission as it has been tasked with being one of the payloads in the form of the Lunar Hydrogen Autonomous Neutron Spectrometer (LHANS). LHANS is an advanced instrument designed to detect hydrogen — one of the best indicators of water ice on the Moon.
Lianne Ing, vice-president of the 34-year old firm, said the company was over the moon when the announcement was made last week.
“We have been working on various contracts for the Canadian Space Agency for the last six years to develop and advance technology for Canadian space technology and when this project was announced we submitted our proposal and were successful,” she said. “This is definitely a giant step for our company to be one of the payloads to be launched on the rover and our company is excited to be part of this historic mission.”
Ing explained the team will be led by Canadensys Aerospace and includes a broad team of Canadian and partners from industry and academia in the United States. The lunar rover will demonstrate key technologies and collect important scientific data to lay the foundation for future lunar exploration activities.
The Canadian rover will land on the south pole of the Moon and will carry six scientific payloads: five Canadian and one American. the rover will be able to drive into and operate inside of permanently shadowed regions for up to one hour; survive lunar nights (-170C to less than -200C), which can last up to 14 Earth days.
Ing said one of the objectives of the Canadian lunar rover is to travel on the surface of the Moon to see how the various systems perform. Another major objective is to make scientific measurements that will help determine the amount of hydrogen present in the Moon soil, which is one of the best indicators of water ice while defining at which temperatures it is detected.
“Our role is to develop the LHANS, which is a small device about the size of a shoebox, and its purpose is to determine the presence of hydrogen and that is the best indicator to see if there is water ice present,” she said. “The moon is constantly being bombarded by radiation coming from space and when that radiation interacts with water ice on the moon it can produce a radiation signature that we can detect and read out with our instrument.
“The LAHNS unit will be attached to the rover and as it crawls across the moon surface, it will be looking for changes in radiation signatures and we can tell from those signatures if there is a deposit of water ice present. Our instrument is non-invasive and is only measuring signals so it will not be removing samples from the surface.”
She was not sure how the lunar rover will be sent to the moon as that is still in development. The Canadian Space Agency is working with NASA and NASA has a commercial payload service that launches things into space. She said which type of specific platform will be used to transport the rover is still in discussion.
“Once it arrives on the moon it will drive into and operate inside of permanently shadowed regions for up to one hour,” she said. “All payloads and the rover itself will be designed to survive lunar nights (−170 °C to less than −200 °C), which can last up to 14 Earth days and collect data under those condition. We are anxious to see how long the unit can continue to collect and transmit data after the initial 14 days.”
The primary reason for the detection of water ice is because water is essential if in order to stay on the Moon. Water is needed and the oxygen it provides, in order to live. It would also be used to produce hydrogen, a source of energy to launch rockets from its surface. Bringing water from Earth would be very expensive and complex.
“The presence of water and other key elements on the Moon can make extended human stays on the Moon more feasible in the future,” she added.
The BTI site in Chalk River has 50 employees and she said there will be various stages of research conducted and employees will come and go leading up to 2026, but she estimates it will likely be a core group of 12 researchers dedicated to the project.
“We are proud of our employees and all the research we have conducted for more than 30 years and it shows that a small firm located in the Ottawa Valley can be part of Canada’s future in space technology and research,” she said.