The main success of the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) is allowing Canada to keep an eye out on what other countries are doing and to develop programs in parallel, according to the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) Victoria Hipkin. The program scientist for planetary exploration is a co-author on a paper explaining ISECG’s importance; it will be presented at the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) meetings that begins today.
“The idea was to look at the national objectives and science objectives,” Hipkin said of the origins of this group in 2007. “We looked at the largest number of these developed by different processes, by the member countries, and put them together to draw objectives out of them.”
As for lunar exploration, underneath the organization there is a working group formed in 2008 that looks at different areas of lunar architecture, including habits, manipulators, landers and transports.
“The goal of this exercise was to come up with scenarios for lunar architecture that the agencies all had some interest in, looking forward towards an age of exploration where there would be increase in co-operation over what we see on the ISS (International Space Station,” Hipkin said.
In July, the ISECG International Architecture Working Group put out a summary report concerning the framework for lunar exploration. Using a statement from the Global Exploration Strategy that said the moon, Mars and near-earth asteroids are the primary targets for exploration, the report outlined an approach to head back to the moon in phases that would include both robotic and human activities.
Steps would include a robotic “precursor” to do technology demonstrations, doing short test missions with humans around the poles, moving the fleet of robots and rovers across the moon and then doing long-duration missions of up to 70 days at sites of interest.
“It’s still at quite a high level,” Hipkin said when asked how this would relate to current CSA activities. “It’s an architecture saying when you would have missions and the characteristics and the detailed requirements of a rover’s capability.”
That said, the CSA did issue two requests for proposals for rover concepts this summer that could be used on the moon. Worth a maximum of $11 million per rover, the robotic vehicles could be upgraded to bear two astronauts short distances – just like the Apollo astronauts did on the moon in the early 1970s.
Hipkin acknowledged that the plan to head back to the moon is “quite in flux” given U.S. President Barack Obama’s winter announcement that NASA’s future Constellation program would shift from bringing humans to the moon and Mars, to focusing on heavy-lift rocket development with the ability to head to flexible destinations.
Still, she maintained there is a spot for the lunar architecture group.
“It’s an extremely important group to let some of the agencies talk with each other about the concepts they are developing,” she said. “The material in here still remains relevant if you want to go to the moon. The moon remains a target; it’s just shifted in terms of the major target.”