By Bryson Masse, Ottawa Citizen | April 9, 2016

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.

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

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.

Link to original story (accessed on 11 April 2016)