Canada will soon be heading to the moon.
A new partnership between Canada and the Nasa-led Lunar Gateway project has been announced, which will eventually see humans returning to the moon and paving the way for a manned trip to Mars. The Gateway is an outpost that will be built on the moon, providing space for astronauts to live, a docking station for visiting spacecraft, and labs for research. Canada’s contribution will be a familiar one—they will develop Canadarm3, a sort-of sequel to their already existing Canadarms, which are smart robotic systems that repair and maintain spacecraft and the International Space Station.
To fund this next step of space exploration, over the next 24 years, Canada will invest $2.05 billion into the country’s space program. During this period, Canadian astronauts will have a chance to participate in missions to space, scientists will research cutting-edge solutions to the problems involved in such a monumental mission, and companies within Canada will continue to work on developing AI and digital technologies to aid both the space program itself as well as other businesses around the country.
In a speech at the Canadian Aerospace Summit last November, the head of NASA Jim Bridenstine described how he wanted Canada to be a major part of how the U.S. explores space, citing Canada’s expertise in robotics and AI.
“We cannot achieve what we want to achieve in space if we go alone,” said Bridenstine last November. “We want Canada involved in a big way. We’d love to see robotics on the Lunar Gateway—maybe a Canadarm3—and we want Canada to be a major player in these activities.”
“Canada’s historic investment will create good jobs for Canadians, keep our astronaut program running and our aerospace industry strong and growing, while opening up a new realm of possibilities for Canadian research and innovation,” said Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada. “With the Lunar Gateway, Canada will play a major role in one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken. Together, with our partners from around the world, we’ll continue to push the boundaries of human ambition, and inspire generations of kids – and adults – to always aim higher and aspire to something greater.”
The $2 billion investment includes $150 million that will go towards supporting a new Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program, an initiative that will enable SMEs in Canada to develop and scale technologies that will be used in orbit as well as on the surface of the moon. It may end up looking similar to the Creative Destruction Lab’s space cohort, which is designed to show how a previously-inaccessible market is now suddenly reachable for private companies.
The announcement of Canada joining the Lunar Gateway project leans heavily on the country’s prominence in AI, as the quickly-growing field was mentioned several times throughout statements as well as Trudeau’s speech announcing the investment. The Canadian government has invested heavily in the field over the past few years (such as the Pan-Canadian AI Strategy), so it’s no surprise they want to use AI as a differentiator and selling point.
At the end of 2017, the company responsible for building and maintaining Canadarm2, MDA, received $53.75 million to continue working on the smart robotic device. Beyond that, Canadian technology is frequently featured on trips to the International Space Station, where one Canadian astronaut is currently in orbit.