Artists rendering of Firefly's Blue Ghost CLPS Lander: Credit: Firefly Aerospace

Canada Weighs into NASA's CLPS Program

On November 14th, CSA announced that it had contracted local partners for development of its first interplanetary rover to be launched on one of the NASA funded CLPS Landers.

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Ashe S.

Ashe S.

Sat Nov 19 2022Written by Ashe S.

On November 14th, The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) announced that it had contracted local partners for development of its first interplanetary rover to be launched on one of the NASA funded Commercial Lunar Payload Service (CLPS) Landers. This mission, currently slated for early 2026, will explore the south pole of the moon in efforts to bring sustainability and long term habitation to the moon.

What is the CSA?

The Canadian Space Agency has been a dormant giant in the space programs of the world. While not having a rocket program of their own, CSA still has contributed major advancements to space exploration as a whole, with their main focus has been in their unmanned robotic development. As NASA’s space shuttle began development, CSA was chosen to develop the famous ‘Canadarm’, a robotic manipulator arm able to grapple onto satellites for repairs and attach to astronauts for increased mobility. The arm was instrumental on almost every mission the shuttle flew, with all 5 space shuttle orbiters outfitted with this arm. In more modern applications, modern iterations of the arm are currently being used on the international space station, and more have been ordered for the use of new commercial space stations.

What is CLPS?

CLPS is a NASA program dedicated to bringing robotic access to the moon in a form never seen before. CLPS, for Commercial Lunar Payload Services, “allows rapid acquisition of lunar delivery services from American companies for payloads that advance capabilities for science, exploration or commercial development of the Moon”. The CLPS initiative sought to lessen the cost and increase the cadence at which science experiments, novel technologies, and robotic missions can explore our closest neighbor. The program initially brought in 9 companies to its roster of candidates for development, but has expanded to 14 as demand increases. Each company has their own lander designed to work on a specific niche in the industry, and provides commercial competition that drives the race to the moon for commercial companies. These opportunities allow governments, agencies, and companies to cheaply have a wide range of access to the lunar surface, allowing for lunar exploration and operation fit for the modern age.

Why Canada?

Canada is now expanding its robotic endeavors with the development of their new generation of exploration vehicles. This new lunar rover is being developed under the CSA’s Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program, LEAP. Through LEAP, the CSA contracted local major subcontractor Canadensys Aerospace Corporation with $45,000,000 for the initial development for the rover. This rover is being designed to carry six on-board payloads which will “Perform meaningful science and demonstrate key technologies that will lay an important foundation for subsequent Canadian lunar exploration.” Of the six payloads, five will be accessible for CSA and Canadian spaceflight corporations, while the last spot will be given to NASA. Each payload spot will be able to host science experiments and technology demonstrators. This all culminates in the landing zone for the rover: the South Pole. The South Pole has been the main focus of lunar exploration following the Apollo landings, after the finding of water ice on the pole.

What does this mean?

The LEAP program is just one example of how the new age of space is allowing nations, agencies, and companies from around the world to start exploring what was once only accessible to the very few. Canada is just one of many companies exploring cheaper, faster access to the surface of the moon, with agencies such as JAXA and ESA, and companies such as SpaceX, Northrop Grumman, Blue Origin, Intuitive space, and Astrobotic, all racing to the surface of the moon in the coming years. The cost to put a science experiment on the moon is dropping fast, and will only continue as more and more landers get developed, and humanity gets to reap the rewards of the competition. This race is set to start out in the early hours of November 16th, 2022, as the Artemis 1 mission will lead us into a new age of lunar exploration. Astrobotic’s ‘Peregrine’ lander is set to fly in the early months of 2023 on ULA’s Vulcan rocket's maiden voyage, opening the CLPS initiative to space and the surface of the moon.