Canadian Led Mission to Mars Will Soon be One Step Closer

Canada may soon have its own mission to the red planet SpaceRef has learned. An official announcement from Canadian Space Agency (CSA) President Dr. Marc Garneau for a feasibility study is expected soon.

Garneau became president of CSA nearly 2 1/2 years ago. Throughout that time he’s been pushing for an increase in the CSA’s budget so that Canada could have a greater role in space exploration, in particular, Garneau pushed for Mars exploration.

Even though the CSA has not received a budget increase, it now seems that the CSA is still prepared to lead a robotic mission to Mars in 2011 pending government approval. Dr. Alain Berinstain, Acting Director for the CSA’s Planetary Exploration and Space Astronomy Program says we should expect an announcement of opportunity to be released to the Canadian space exploration community for an initial feasibility study in May or June, for just such a mission.

The mission concepts that the CSA is interested in receiving include an orbiter, a single lander, or a network of small landers. It is possible that the lander concepts could include the ability to travel on the Martian surface.

The CSA will then select among the submitted proposals up to four to fund at the $500k level. After the initial feasibility study is concluded, the CSA would then select and fund one of these concepts through a Phase A study. It should be noted that Berinstain told SpaceRef that the CSA has only received government approval at this time for the feasibility study. Further government approval would be needed for the Phase A study to proceed.

Once the a concept is selected by the fall 2004, the initial feasibility study would be completed by the spring of 2005. If approval is given, the Phase A study could start by Summer of 2005. If the mission proceeds further, the winning team will have until 2011 to develop the mission. This launch date selection would allow the CSA to spread out the cost of the mission over five years, thus reducing the burden on its budget.

The total cost of the mission will not exceed $150 million with as much as $75 million directed to development of the science payload. Teams sending in proposals will be told to focus solely on the science platform with instrumentation.

Since the CSA does not have the capability to launch its own rocket it will have to partner with an outside entity. Berinstain told SpaceRef that the CSA has already been in contact with Russia. If Russia was selected as a partner it would be to provide complementary expertise that does not currently exist in Canada such as launch capability, cruise stage operations and entry, descent and landing operations expertise.

Aside from potential Russian participation in the launch and operations phases of the mission, other foreign agencies will be welcome to participate in the mission. Up to one third of the science payload could be contributed by foreign participants.

In terms of scale and scope, the Canadian Mars mission would be somewhere between a Beagle-2 and NASA Scout class mission. For lack of an existing mission class definition, perhaps we should call it a “Canadian MicroScout mission”.

It’s no secret that the CSA has been trying to develop a niche for Canadian space exploration technology for some years now. In particular, the last two CSA-sponsored Canadian Space Exploration Workshops have focused on Mars and what technology Canada could develop a niche in for a Canadian lead mission in 2011 or 2013.

Areas that seem to have gained some popularity within the Canadian space exploration community include drilling technology, light detection and ranging (LIDAR) for precise landings, and advanced surface communication technology.

This is not the first time Canada has been involved in a mission to Mars. However it would be the first mission led by the CSA. Canada had an instrument on the Japanese orbiter Nozomi. Nozomi was recently declared a failed mission when it did not achieve orbit around Mars in January 2004.

Canada is also a participant in the NASA Phoenix Scout stationary lander mission scheduled for 2007. The Canadian team will focus on studies of the Martian atmosphere using laser radar (LIDAR) technology.

Canada was to have participated in the ambitious 2009 NASA Mars Science Laboratory (MSL). MSL will be a nuclear powered rover that will traverse the Martian surface for up to a year. However Canada was forced to decline the invitation from NASA because of lack of funding.

The recent announcement by President Bush that the U.S. is charting a new course in space exploration could be the reason why Dr. Garneau and the CSA are now aggressively moving towards a Canadian lead mission. As part of this move forward the CSA is planning another Mars focused Canadian Space Exploration Workshop for the fall.

Given this upcoming announcement, it would seem that Canada does not want to be left behind, and to make certain that it is not, it will soon have a Mars mission it can call its own.

About Marc Boucher

Marc Boucher
Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceRef Canada Interactive Inc, CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef U.S., advisor and co-founder of the Canadian Space Commerce Association, and director and co-founder of MaxQ Accelerator Inc. Previously he was the founder of Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine which he sold.

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