The Canadian lunar rover may soon help reveal the moon’s dark side.
The country’s first lunar rover will put the Canadian Space Agency at the forefront of space exploration and help in the global search for frozen water on the celestial body.
NASA says the moon takes about 27 days to complete a full rotation on its axis as it orbits Earth, leaving the same side visible from Earth at all times. As a result, the other side remains little understood and unexplored.
“It’s always fired everyone’s imagination: What’s on the other side of the moon?” said Gordon Osinski, principal investigator for the Canadian Lunar Rover Mission.
Osinski’s Canadian team, along with international partners, is preparing to send a 30-kilogram rover to the south polar region of the moon in search of preserved frozen water, possibly a few meters below the surface and mixed into the soil.
The discovery of ice could be a springboard for further exploration of the solar system, including manned missions, said Chris Herd, a scientific investigator on the mission and planetary geologist from the University of Alberta.
Herd, who previously worked on the Mars rover mission, said frozen water “can be extracted and used as a resource for the astronauts to survive.” He said the ice could also be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen for fuel, reducing the cost of bringing those supplies from Earth.
“It reduces the cost of sending people to the moon (and) that’s the ultimate goal,” he said.
Osinski said there has been renewed interest in lunar exploration over the past five years, with more emphasis on sending astronauts back there.
The robotic rover would play an integral role in realizing that dream, he added.
Christian Sallaberger, CEO of Canadansys Aerospace Corporation, said commercial expansion of the space industry is also playing a big role in reviving interest in revisiting the moon.
In November, Ottawa selected Canadansys to build the lunar rover and help with the scientific instruments to be sent to the moon.
“The cost of the missions has relatively decreased to what they were previously,” Sallaberger said. “In the 60s, everything was state-funded.”
The Ontario space company has worked in partnership with six Canadian universities and several international partners from the United States and Great Britain.
Canadensys wanted to build a robust rover that could handle extreme temperature fluctuations – changing from -200 C at night to more than 100 C during the day. It would also be able to deal with high radiation and jagged lunar surfaces while continuing to transmit data throughout the months it spends on the moon.
Running on solar power, the rover went into hibernation every 14 days and then worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until the next cycle.
Scientists will not only look for solid water, but will examine the composition of the moon’s rocky surface, characterize the radiation environment and take high-resolution images, Sallaberger said.
“(It’s) the preparation for future human missions that this rover would do,” he said.
While Canada won’t be the first country to land on the far side of the moon, it could be the first to explore the south pole of Earth’s natural satellite, which is believed to hold icy water in permanently shadowed craters.
China became the first country to send its rover, Yutu-2, to the far side of the moon in 2019.
Osinski said there could be other countries launching their rovers to the far side of the moon before Canada leaves.
But he said it’s still “incredibly exciting.”
“I almost have to keep pinching myself sometimes,” he said. “It’s everything I’ve been working towards for the last few decades.”
Now he hopes to see the launch of the rover in three years, mounted on top of a rocket – most likely taking off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“Then, a few weeks later, it would land on the surface of the moon. I can’t think of anything more exciting.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on March 4, 2023.
This story was produced with financial assistance from Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.