Kanata company Neptec Design Group will be working with a North Ontario mining technology firm to create equipment that could be used for deep-space prospecting missions to the moon, Mars or even an asteroid.
A drill on the rover during the 2012 simulated mission. The rover was also carrying analysis equipment belonging to NASA. HANDOUT / AFP / GETTY IMAGES
The Canadian Space Agency has awarded a $700,000 contract to Sudbury-based Deltion Innovations to develop PROMPT (or Percussive and Rotary Multi-Purpose Tool), a piece of equipment described by Deltion as a “space-age Swiss Army knife” that would serve multiple functions on a mission.
The robotic device, which would be compacted into a small, lightweight unit and installed on the end of a CSA robotic arm, will have the ability to drill about 10 cm into extraterrestrial crust and capture samples, screw bolts and make repairs autonomously.
“The tool is focused on early stage space mining and early stage space construction,” said Dale Boucher, CEO of Deltion. “(PROMPT will) help to understand surface structure and composition.”
The device will be used on the end of a robotic arm similar to those found on the International Space Station and the Mars rover. It weighs five kilograms and uses about 50 watts of power — less than a typical incandescent light bulb. Boucher wanted to differentiate PROMPT from typical tools in scientific missions as it’s a practical piece of mining equipment.
“Our roots are in the mining industry. We’ve taken the mining capabilities and understanding, and we’ve evolved it to a space environment,” said Boucher.
This photo shows the Neptec drill on the rover during the 2012 simulated mission. The rover was also carrying analysis equipment belonging to NASA. JOE BIBBY / SUPPLIED
PROMPT will also be able to construct new pieces of equipment such as solar panel stands or prospecting equipment. Boucher compared it being able to build furniture or a new toy.
He said he hopes these developments will help kick the Canadian space mining industry into gear.
“Let’s make a stance and let’s go. Let’s get space mining going.”
Brad Jones, director of space systems for Kanata-based Neptec, said the rigours and conditions in deep space create the need for a new kind of technology. Neptec will be one of two companies subcontracting for Deltion, in addition to Atlas Copco from North Bay.
“(One challenge) is simply that all of this work has to be done without human supervision,” said Jones. “Do we do that by remote control? Do we do it semi-autonomously? Do we do that completely autonomously? There are varying grades of human involvement.”
Neptec will be creating software that will control the functions of the new equipment. Jones said there will be a need for technologies such as PROMPT because transporting items you might need in space off the planet is expensive. A better plan might be to manufacture items using resources found at your destination.
“PROMPT is a very early step towards having technology that will allow that kind of in situ resources utilization,” said Jones.
Since December, the Canadian Space Agency has been on the lookout for companies that can fulfill a contract that included a need for “Deep-Space Exploration Robotics.”
The goal of the contract would be to “develop a concept of a potential Canadian contribution to future exploration missions,” said Gilles Leclerc, director of space exploration at the CSA.
Neptec congratulates Deltion Innovations, Ltd. on being awarded a contract for PROMPT by the Canadian Space Agency. Neptec is pleased to be their partner in developing this unique tool for space mining.
For more information and to read the Deltion Press Release, please click here.
OTTAWA, Ontario – February 17, 2016 – Neptec Design Group is proud to have made this significant contribution to the Canadian Space Agency’s investment in ASTRO-H, along with our incredible partners from academia.
The mission’s success will depend on the Canadian ASTRO-H Metrology System (CAMS), that can measure the exact positions of the 12-metre-long telescope’s opposite ends down to two widths of a human hair, and constantly adjust for slight changes less than one-hundredth that size.
“We were able to push the envelope in terms of precision,” said Stéphane Gagnon, Vice-President of Space Programs for Neptec Design Group and lead engineer for the device.
“ASTRO-H CAMS is a perfect example where a strategic investment by the Canadian Space Agency in Canadian technology has led directly to export sales and value-added job creation opportunities for Canada. This project keeps Canada on the leading edge of optical sensor space applications”, added Paul Nephin, Neptec CEO.
ASTRO-H is longer than any X-ray telescope ever built. It won’t stretch out to its full length until it’s already deployed in space. The CSA/Neptec CAMS will allow astronomers on Earth to compensate as the telescope flexes and vibrates while orbiting the Earth.
CBC News Posted: Jan 07, 2016 12:09 PM ET| Last Updated: Jan 07, 2016 12:09 PM ET
An Ottawa space flight engineering firm will be responsible for developing sensors to help monitor the condition of the aging International Space Station.
Neptec Design Group Ltd. has been awarded a $1.7-million contract to design an “advanced space vision system” that will both keep an eye on the ISS’s aging infrastructure and help spacecraft successfully dock there, the Canadian Space Agency announced Thursday.
The space station has been orbiting earth since 1998.
Roughly the size of a microwave oven, the system will use a combination of three different sensors — a high-definition camera, an infrared camera, and a 3D laser — and will be mounted on Dextre, the space agency’s robotic helper on board the ISS.
Dextre will use Neptec’s forthcoming system to inspect the toll that the harsh environment of space takes upon the station, which is regularly hit by small meteorites and other debris, the agency said in a news release.
The new sensors are expected to be in place by 2020, and the images they capture will be viewable by the public, said the agency.
It’s not the first time Neptec has been asked to develop technology to benefit the International Space Station.
In 2014, an unmanned spaceship traveling to the ISS tested the Ottawa firm’s TriDAR sensor system, an automated guidance system designed to help ships dock properly.