robo RyanIn 2010, Canada injected some $110M of stimulus money into the Canadian Space Agency. Part of this money went to The Lunar Exploration Light Rovers program, a series of contacts awarded to various companies and universities worth about $60M.

However the decision was made to fund lunar rovers, it was brilliant. The moon had been relatively ignored in the wake of the Mars landings of Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity. Between Mars advocacy groups and Elon Musk the moon had been relegated to second status as an exploration destination.

This left Canada in a relatively quiet area of research, which is great if you have limited resources. You want to focus where others are not to gain the advantage! In true Canadian fashion, the results surpassed expectations.

One of the stimulus contracts went to Ontario Drive and Gear (ODG), who took a very commercial approach to the design of their Juno and Artemis rovers. A leader in terrestrial surface mobility, they sought to provide a rover that could host any type of payload. In this way the same rover could serve many missions.

 

They have succeeded as far as they possibly could. Years of field testing and design iterations has led NASA to request that Canada provide an Artemis Jr. rover for the Resource Prospector Mission (RPM) (formerly RESOLVE). That's about as good as it gets - an opportunity for Canadian designs to lead the way on NASA's return to the moon (Sudbury-based Deltion might also provide a lunar drill for RPM)

Sadly the RPM has been delayed, and in the meantime, the moon is coming back into focus.

In 2013, China landed Yutu, the Jade Rabbit, on the moon. The successful landing made China only the third country to soft-land on the moon, and the first such landing in nearly 40 years. Again showing the sheer difficulty of success in space missions, Yutu stopped operating shortly after landing before fulfilling all the mission objectives.

The Google Lunar X Prize is in a critical stage now. the $20M prize will be awarded to the first team to land a rover and return imagery from the lunar surface. With only about 18 months to the deadline, launches need to be secured. The team from Israel just received a $16M investment to help them on the way.

Off-earth mining companies have started to spring up, such the Shackleton Energy Company, that wants to mine water from the moon in support of a future space based economy. I agree with them on one point, if there's ever an off-earth economy, it will start at the moon. It's closer and cheaper than Mars, far more stable than asteroids, and the technology development to get there is substantially less.

Any lunar economy will need a inexpensive, versatile, and robust surface mobility, precisely what ODG designed. It has to start with a first mission, and it can be a Canadian rover. It would be tragic to have spent all that stimulus money designing Juno and Artemis, only to have the rest of the world catch up and relegate them to the Orphans of Apollo status.

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