Not on the moon yet: Here's what's on the horizon for Canadian space exploration - Canada News

Not on the moon yet: Here’s what’s on the horizon for Canadian space exploration – Canada News

When Nathalie Nguyen-Quoc Ouellette was young, she didn’t see many stars in the bright sky of Montreal. But she delves into the colorful otherworldly images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and dreams of becoming an astrophysicist.

“I really fell in love with space and astronomy,” she said. “There is so much left to discover.”

Today, the deputy director of the Trottier Institute for Research on Exoplanets at the University of Montreal becomes an outreach scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope, a role that sees her connecting her scientific team with the general public and children. whom she hopes to inspire.

It’s a “really fantastic” time for space exploration, Ouellette said.

From the first stunning images produced by the powerful new telescope to the early success of the Artemis lunar mission, the world’s fascination with space is going into hyperdrive.

And Canada is playing a significant role in some of the flagship projects that have budding scientists dreaming again in 2022, with major milestones yet to come.

But even as Canadian space experts get poetic about the current landscape, they are waiting to see if an influx of federal investments will continue despite domestic economic pressures.

For the team behind the James Webb Telescope — named after the NASA administrator who led the Apollo program — it’s been a “very, very busy year,” Ouellette said.

The telescope, which sent its first dazzling images back to Earth in July, includes two Canadian components, and Canadian researchers are among those analyzing its findings.

“Within just a few hours of data collection, it was already blowing past missions,” Ouellette said.

She noted that a team from the University of Toronto has discovered some of the oldest globular clusters ever, or groups of millions of stars held together by gravity. And in the first months of 2023, researchers from the University of Montreal are expected to deliver the first analysis of the TRAPPIST-1 system, which is home to seven Earth-like planets.

NASA’s Artemis mission, which plans the first human exploration of the Moon since the 1960s, also reached important milestones this year.

The Artemis I flight, which saw the Orion spacecraft glide into temporary lunar orbit, was due to return to Earth on Sunday after a successful launch on November 16.

Next year, the Canadian Space Agency will announce which Canadian astronaut will join the crew of Artemis II, which is scheduled for launch in 2024.

The move will make Canada the second country in the world to have a human in deep space – or the region of space beyond the dark side of our Moon – said Gordon Osinski, a professor at Western University in London. , Ontario.

“I still don’t know how Canada pulled it off,” he said, calling it an “incredible blow” that a Canadian astronaut was on board.

“Some of the Artemis images, I just blew my mind,” he said. “As someone who wasn’t alive during Apollo, seeing these images in real time is incredible. And so I think it’s going to be very inspiring, this mission.”

Canadarm3, the successor to two earlier Canadian-designed robotic arms, is set to launch in 2027, and its design by Canadian company MDA is already underway. It is expected to dock at the Artemis Mission’s Lunar Gate, an outpost that will orbit the moon.

Meanwhile, Osinski has been named the principal investigator of Canada’s first-ever rover mission, which is expected to land at the moon’s south pole as early as 2026. Design of the rover by Canadensys Aerospace Corporation will begin in earnest next year, he said. .

“People have been talking about it for a long time,” Osinski said. “Over the last 10 or 15 years, we’ve done study after study. We’ve been paid to think about this and develop concepts for this. But we’re actually doing it, which is really amazing.”

Canadian Space Agency President Lisa Campbell said it’s been “a really exciting time” for the national space program.

“It’s like a dream factory and an innovation machine,” she said.

Campbell cited a myriad of ways Canada participates in international projects in the public and private sectors focused on exploring the Moon and beyond. But she also pointed out that Canadian efforts in space are not just about exploring its outer reaches, but also have applications at home.

The agency, Natural Resources Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada were promised $169 million in this year’s federal budget to deliver and operate a new wildfire monitoring satellite, which is expected to launch in 2028.

Canada is also part of an atmospheric observation project with NASA that will collect data to anticipate extreme weather events on Earth.

And in 2022, the agency launched a Deep Space Healthcare Challenge, a competition to develop diagnostic and sensing technologies that can be used in both crewed space missions and in remote communities. in Canada.

“The challenges of space drive us to innovate the things we need here on Earth,” Campbell said.

Many moon-related projects, including the rover mission, have received funding from the Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program, a five-year, $150 million fund that scientists like Osinski hope to see renewed.

“I would hate if we had all these missions to the moon over the next two, three years and that was it, and then we kind of went back to square one,” Osinski said. “The CSA needs to convince the government that this is a worthwhile undertaking.”

While Campbell said the program was “very popular,” she did not say whether the federal government had committed to funding another term.

“Additional investments are always welcome,” she said.

The federal Liberals’ space strategy, released in 2019, committed Canada to remaining a space nation and recognized “the importance of space as a national strategic asset.”

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