Junior Astronauts wanted! (Credit: Canadian Space Agency) Young Canadians can test their skills and knowledge through the Canadian Space Agency’s Junior Astronauts campaign this fall with online activities in science and technology, fitness and nutrition, and teamwork and communications. The first activities were made available on the Junior Astronauts website in September, with more coming in October. Young Canadians who complete at least one activity in each of the streams can apply to take part in the CSA’s Junior Astronauts recruitment. Selected youth from across Canada will have the opportunity to go to the Canadian Space Agency in Saint-Hubert, Quebec for a week of training by astronauts, scientists and engineers. By participating, teachers, educators and youth group leaders will have an opportunity to win a visit by an astronaut or space expert to their school or youth organization in spring 2020. All they have to do is register and complete at least one of the activities with a youth group in any of the proposed streams. The CSA will randomly select institutions from every province and territory. Visit the Junior Astronauts website to learn more and to register! You can also subscribe to an email list for timely updates about the... Read more
It has been 50 years since human missions to the Moon were shown not only to be possible, but to be successful! Recently, all the major space agencies in the world have committed to returning to the Moon within the next decade. In preparation for this, Western University and the University of Winnipeg successfully completed a lunar sample return analogue mission called CanMoon. This is a simulated rover mission that would return samples from the Moon’s surface as part of the Canadian Space Agency’s Fieldwork for the Advancement of Science and Technology – Lunar Exploration Analogue program. The mission ran from August 5-16th with a Mission Control based at Western University and a field analogue site in Lanzarote, Spain. The large-scale objectives for the mission are to build and maintain a group of qualified scientists and engineers in space-related areas in Canada for participation in upcoming real lunar missions; and to design an effective mission control operational structure to run near real-time, 24-hour lunar operations. The daily schedule of a lunar rover mission will require continuous hands-on personnel and will be very data intensive as there is only a few seconds delay in Earth-Moon communications. The project is directed by principal investigators Dr. Gordon Osinski (UWO) and Dr. Ed Cloutis (UW); and operations are managed by Cassandra Marion, a PhD candidate at Western. The CanMoon team consists of 56 people including a range of analogue mission veterans and novices from the fields of engineering, geology, planetary science, environmental science, astrobiology, etc. Forty-one participants are undergraduate and graduate students studying in Canada, among which many aspire to participate in real missions. Cassandra Marion is the Mission Operations Manager for the CanMoon analogue mission; her 14th analogue mission experience. She is a Ph.D. candidate in Geology – Planetary Science at Western University. Her studies focus on impact cratering at lunar and martian analogue sites in Arctic Canada. Outside of research she is an outdoor adventurer, volleyball player and aspiring multilingual. CanMoon’s Mission Control is run by a Planning Team who command the rover to drive and collect data, in addition to a Tactical Science and a Science Interpretation Team whom decide on scientific sites of interest to target and interpret the returned results. In this simulation, the rover is operated by a small team of students pretending to be the rover. The rover’s landing site, Lanzarote Spain, is a relatively young volcanic island and is an environment analogous to the Schrödinger impact basin on the lunar far side. Left to right: CanMoon field team at work in Lanzarote; Science Room at Western University; Planning Room at Western University During the CanMoon mission, the team successfully collected and returned 7 samples from Lanzarote. They are now hard at work analyzing samples and validating their rover interpretations. But more than that, they strive to be the future leaders in Canadian lunar missions. CanMoon Mission... Read more
           Over a dozen federal departments will use RCM data to provide services to Canadians. (Credit: CSA) After 15 years of hard work on Canada’s RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM), the trio of satellites was launched successfully into space on the foggy California morning of June 12, 2019, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The RCM will take daily scans of Canada’s vast territory and waters, day or night and in all kinds of weather conditions. The constellation will provide daily access to 90% of the world’s surface and will be able to pass over the Arctic up to four times a day. The RCM is also equipped with an Automatic Identification System, which will allow for improved detection and tracking of ships, including those conducting illegal fishing and other illicit activities. The RADARSAT Constellation Mission launched aboard a SpaceX rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. (Credit: SpaceX) For more than two decades, Canada’s world-leading RADARSAT satellites have been providing scientists, government and industry with crucial and continuous data for a wide variety of uses. RCM data will also be used in innovative applications that benefit Canadians, such as:  Monitoring climate change, land use evolution and even human impacts on the environment by highlighting changes over time through composite images. Helping emergency teams save lives during natural disasters. Creating ice maps for safer ship navigation and commercial maritime transportation. Monitoring the integrity of infrastructure like highways, bridges and railway corridors. Measuring changes in permafrost and ground movement to support northern communities, build houses and infrastructure safely, and plan airport runways and their operation and maintenance. Maximizing crop yields for farmers while reducing energy consumption and the use of potential pollutants. Supporting the operations of the Canadian Armed Forces to further global peace and security.     MDA Ltd., a Maxar company, is the prime contractor for the project. As such, it is responsible for the design, construction and testing of the spacecraft, which was mainly done out of their facility in the Montreal area. In total, 125 suppliers across 7 Canadian provinces played a role in the project. (Credit: CSA)   The satellites are expected to be fully operational after the commissioning period, which may take up to 3 to 6 months. While the RCM’s prime objective is to respond to the needs of the Government of Canada, the Canadian Space Agency aims to provide a variety of users in industry, government and academia with access to RCM data. RADARSAT Constellation Mission: Finding solutions for a better Canada. (Credit:... Read more
Young lunar craters identified using the Diviner instrument aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter allowed scientists to make a fascinating discovery about the bombardment history of the Moon and Earth. (Credits: Ernie Wright/NASA Goddard) Most scientists believe that the bombardment rate on the Moon and Earth has remained constant in the past ~2-3 billion years. The common assumption has been that the Earth’s crater record is heavily biased and the rarity of young craters on Earth (300-660 million years) is due to preservation bias, for example, being erased by erosion or tectonics. To test this idea, scientists have compared the Earth’s cratering record to that of the Moon.    Dr. Sara Mazrouei is a planetary scientist, educator, and science communicator. She is currently the Space Matters Lead at Western University’s Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration. Her PhD research at the University of Toronto focused on the recent bombardment history of the Moon. Dr. Mazrouei and colleagues used a new method to determine the ages of lunar craters, using temperature data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Diviner instrument. Young craters with numerous meter-sized fragments are easy to pick out from older craters with eroded fragments. As time goes by, these large rocks are broken down by future small impactors. Eventually, over the course of about a billion years, all of the rocks form into regolith, providing an inverse relationship between rock abundance (the rockiness of a crater’s ejecta) and crater age. As craters get older, they become less rocky. Using this relationship, they dated all craters larger than 10 km in diameter and younger than 1 billion years old on the surface of the Moon. The ages of these craters revealed that the bombardment rate on the Moon has increased by a factor of 2.6 in the past 290 million years. Using rock abundance data from the Lunar Reconnaisance Orbiter to determine ages for lunar craters. (Credit: Rebecca Ghent, University of Toronto and Thomas Gernon, University of Southampton) Since the Moon and Earth are in such close proximity, they get bombarded by the same population of impactors. Comparing the lunar crater dataset with terrestrial craters larger than 20 km over the last 650 million years, scientists saw similar distribution patterns between the two. This implied that large crater erasure must be limited on stable terrestrial terrains. It also implies that the observed deficit of large terrestrial craters between 290-650 million years is not preservation bias, but is a reflection of a distinctly lower impact flux. Scientists predict that the rare Chicxulub-type impacts, the ones that may have lead to the extinction of dinosaurs, were a byproduct of the current high bombardment rate. These new findings could have interesting implications for the evolution of Phanerozoic (the recent geologic eon) life, and the history of life such as extinction events and... Read more
Looking towards the centre of Gale crater, Mastcam mosaic showing the APXS pointing up, at the end of the robotic arm (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS) The Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) is the only such instrument included on all NASA Mars rover missions, providing a unique opportunity to compare chemistry across different locations. Dr. Ralf Gellert (APXS Principal Investigator and physics professor at the University of Guelph) provided the scientific design for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) APXS. MDA was the prime contractor, funded by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), who also fund Mars operations run from the University of Guelph and the University of New Brunswick.   Dr. Lucy Thompson is a geologist/planetary scientist at the Planetary and Space Science Centre, University of New Brunswick. She came to Canada for her PhD studies and first foray into planetary geology in 1991, studying the Sudbury meteorite impact structure in Ontario. She has since studied other terrestrial, martian and lunar craters and geology, as well as meteorites. This experience led to her becoming a member of the APXS and MSL Science teams in 2011. The APXS is located on the end of Curiosity’s robotic arm and is placed in contact with, or close to, a rock, sand or soil sample, or pointing away from the surface for an atmospheric measurement. It bombards the area of interest with X-rays and alpha particles, causing the sample to emit characteristic x-rays that reveal its detailed chemical makeup. The APXS is compact, simple to operate, requiring very little power or uplinked data and generating low downlink data volume products, making it ideally suited to landed planetary mission payloads. After nearly 7 years and more than 20 km of roving in Gale crater on Mars, the MSL Curiosity APXS instrument has acquired more than 750 individual chemical analyses of rocks, sand, soil, dust and the atmosphere. In concert with the 9 other instruments on the Curiosity payload, it has been key in discoveries regarding the geological history of the Gale crater landing area as well as the martian crust in general. These have included; recognition of a past environment at Gale that could have sustained life, as well as extending the compositional range of crustal materials so far found on Mars. Navcam left photo of APXS analyzing the “Kilmarie” drill target prior to drilling on Sol 2382. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech) The Canadian-built and operated APXS continues to play a pivotal role in the exploration of Gale crater. As Curiosity continues to climb the rock layers that comprise the central mound, the APXS will provide key chemical information regarding changes in the martian environment through time as the rocks were formed. The APXS team during landing, August... Read more
A rendering of the James Webb Space Telescope (Credit: Northrup Grumman) The Hubble Space Telescope’s impact on our understanding of the Universe and the public’s perception of space is undeniable. It is truly a revolutionary mission! But nearly three decades after it began operations, Hubble is set to be supplanted by an even grander telescope: the James Webb Space Telescope. And unlike with Hubble, this time Canada will be along for the ride! Dr. Nathalie Ouellette is an astrophysicist and science communicator. Her research focuses on galaxy formation and evolution. She is a frequent contributor to space stories in the Canadian media and public outreach events. Nathalie is currently the Coordinator of the Institute for Research on Exoplanets (iREx) at the Université de Montréal. She is also the JWST Outreach Scientist in Canada collaborating with the Canadian Space Agency. The James Webb Space Telescope is an international collaboration between the Canadian Space Agency, NASA and the European Space Agency. Unlike Hubble which was mostly sensitive to visible light, Webb will peer into the infrared universe. This 6.5m telescope, arguably one of the most complex machines ever built, will be launched into space in an Ariane 5 rocket. The telescope itself is so large that it will need to be folded up like origami to fit into the rocket. It will take about a month for Webb to reach its final destination 1.5 million kilometres away from Earth. Canada’s contributions to the Webb Telescope, the Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS) and the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS), was delivered in a single unit to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Credit: NASA The Webb Telescope will be able to study alien worlds, observe the evolution of galaxies over time, help us understand the lifecycle of stars and peer further back into the Universe than ever before. The Near-Infrared Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS), one of Webb’s four scientific instruments, is Canadian-made. It was designed, among other things, to study the atmospheres of exoplanets and determine if they are habitable… or even inhabited! The Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS), Webb’s guiding camera, is also part of Canada’s contribution to the mission. It will be essential in making sure that every single image taken by the telescope is clear and sharp. Webb is currently undergoing a battery of tests to make sure it will survive the extreme environments of a rocket launch space. This is especially crucial since Webb’s distant location will mean it will not be repairable. The Webb Telescope is scheduled for launch in March... Read more
ExoMars – Artist’s impression of Schiaparelli separating from Trace Gas Orbiter. Credit: European Space Agency   Why are Earthlings so obsessed with Mars? They want to know whether life existed on Mars some time in the past or whether life might still exist on Mars! Of all the planets, Mars is the most Earth-like, but is still very different from the Earth. Mars is colder, drier, and has a much thinner atmosphere. However, scientists think that as we go further back in time, Mars and Earth become more similar to each other. Life arose on Earth around 3 billion years ago, and at that time Mars was much more Earth-like. What that means is that even though Mars is pretty inhospitable today, it was more hospitable in the past and so life could have arisen on Mars like it did on the Earth.   An artist’s interpretation of what ancient Mars may have looked like (Ittiz via Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-3.0) Dr. Ed Cloutis is a Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of Winnipeg. He is Director of HOSERLab, which uses laboratory equipment to reproduce the surface conditions on Mars and study how rocks and organic materials may change when exposed on the surface of Mars. He is a co-investigator on a number of present and future Mars missions. Canada may not be able to fly its own mission to Mars because that is incredibly expensive. However, Canadian scientist and engineers are involved in almost all current and future Mars missions. This allows Canada to explore Mars at a fraction of the cost of having its own mission. Canada is part of the Russian  and European Space Agency ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) mission. This is an orbiting satellite around Mars that is searching for signs of past or present life on Mars. ExoMars TGO studies the Mars atmosphere for traces of gases that are produced by life, such as methane. Canadian scientists are also using data from the ExoMars mission to study dust kicked up by dust storms that is in the atmosphere of Mars to find out whether the dust either contains biological molecules or contains compounds that are essential for life, such as boron-containing compounds. Artist impression of the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) analyzing the martian atmosphere. Credit: European Space Agency Using the scientific instruments on TGO to search for evidence of life in the dust in the Martian atmosphere is difficult since the instruments were not designed for this. However, scientists are working hard to make this possible. The knowledge and experience gained by studying Martian atmospheric dust is also being applied to monitoring the health of Earth’s atmosphere from... Read more
A team of Canadian astronomers and engineers has developed a bold new concept for a Canadian flagship space telescope: CASTOR, the Cosmological Advanced Survey Telescope for Optical and ultraviolet Research. CASTOR’s name pays tribute to Canada’s national animal, the beaver. Space astronomy is on the verge of a revolution. In the next decade, a pair of sophisticated imaging telescopes — Europe’s Euclid mission and NASA’s WFIRST mission — will survey the skies at red-optical and infrared wavelengths, hoping to unlock the secrets of Dark Energy, a mysterious form of energy that is causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate. CASTOR has been designed to complement these by providing razor-sharp images at shorter wavelengths, in the ultraviolet and blue-optical region. Patrick Côté is an astronomer at NRC’s Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre in Victoria, BC. He uses both ground- and space-based telescopes — especially the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope in Hawaii and NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope — to study galaxies and clusters in the local universe. CASTOR would not only open a new window on the cosmos, but it would succeed the legendary Hubble Space Telescope (HST) as the world’s preeminent imaging facility at these wavelengths. Launched in 1990, HST is nearing the end of its lifetime, and astronomers worldwide will soon lose access to the razor-sharp imaging capabilities that have propelled their research to new heights and captivated the pubic in the process. Smaller, lighter and cheaper than Hubble, CASTOR would use the latest technologies to deliver images that are nearly as sharp as Hubble, but covering a field nearly one hundred times larger. Astronomers plan to use its revolutionary billion-pixel camera to image about one fifth of the entire sky, yielding the sharpest, widest and deepest view of the universe to date at these wavelengths. A team made up of nearly one hundred astronomers from across Canada and around the world has recently explored CASTOR’s research capabilities in a study sponsored by the Canadian Space Agency. The conclusion? CASTOR’s scientific potential is immense and includes not just Dark Energy, but the progenitors of gravitational wave events, supermassive black holes, the atmospheres of extra-solar planets, the search for possible dwarf planets beyond the orbit of Pluto, and much more. CASTOR will produce the deepest, widest and sharpest view of the universe in ultraviolet light, allowing astronomers to understand how galaxies form and evolve over cosmic timescales. (Left). A region of sky imaged in ultraviolet light by NASA’s GALEX telescope. (Right). Credit: Patrick Côté Energized by the results of their recent study, the team hopes the Canadian Space... Read more
Have you ever wanted to shoot lasers in space? Do you know that Canadians are doing that right now? OSIRIS-REx is a NASA-led mission that launched on September 8, 2016 and has traveled to a Near-Earth Object called Bennu, which is thought to have formed over 4.5 billion years ago, and has remained relatively unchanged since then. OSIRIS-REx reached Bennu in August 2018, and in October 2018 started a survey of the surface of the asteroid to measure its global properties, identify strange or unique features, and scan the surface for potential sites to touch down and collect material to bring back to Earth in 2023. First 3D lidar map of asteroid Bennu created by Canada’s OLA instrument. Credit: NASA/University of Arizona/Canadian Space Agency/York University/MDA Left: Dr. Kim Tait is the Senior Curator of Mineralogy at the Royal Ontario Museum and a collaborator on the Canadian OLA science team. Right: Dr. Michael Daly is the Canadian Science Team Lead for the OSIRIS-REx Mission and the Lead Instrument Scientist for OLA. He is the holder of the York Research Chair in Planetary Science and the Director of the Centre for Research in Earth and Space Science. One of the 5 instruments on the mission was built in Canada, by MDA and Teledyne Optech, It is a laser system that is able to scan the asteroid from up to seven kilometres away called the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA). From February 12-17, 2019 OLA made more than 11 million measurements of the distance between the spacecraft and Bennu’s surface as it orbited the asteroid at less than 2 kms above the surface – the closest orbit ever achieved by spacecraft. OLA obtained these measurements by firing a laser pulse at the surface of the asteroid and measuring the amount of time it takes to bounce back to the spacecraft, creating a 3-D model of Bennu’s surface. Left: OLA’s electronics box. Right: OLA’s sensor head which holds the two lasers that fire short laser pulses and a receiver that captures the returned beam from the surface of Bennu. Credit: NASA / Goddard / Debora McCallum OLA will take nearly a billion more measurements throughout 2019 to create a complete LIDAR map of a near-Earth asteroid. This information will help researchers and mission planners select the best location from which to gather a sample of the asteroid to bring back to Earth. Close-up images of asteroid Bennu’s northern hemisphere. Wide-angle image (left) shows a 180-meter wide area with many rocks and large boulders and is obtained by the MapCam camera on OSIRIS-REx. The two images on the right are obtained by the high-resolution PolyCam camera. Credit: NASA/Goddard/University of... Read more
Credit: CSA/NASA The Canadian government has established a new partnership with the United States for the NASA-led Lunar Gateway project. It also unveiled its latest Space Strategy, reaffirming Canada as a major spacefaring nation and sets bold visions by designating space as a “strategic national asset”. The 22-page document is embodied by three thematic points, with Imagination as the pivot to Exploration and Innovation. A reinvigorated space program merits the input of Canadian students and young professionals. Zaid Rana is an undergraduate student at Concordia University who is now working at the European Space Agency (ESA) as a Mission Operations Trainee. His work involves using machine learning applications to study the impact of radio frequency interference using ESA’s space telescopes. He has previously spent eight months at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) as an intern and is also active with the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC). The Lunar Gateway project represents the next major destination for the international space community, and Canada has an important role to play. Orbiting the Moon, the station will be much farther than the International Space Station orbiting Earth. It takes on average 2.5 seconds for a round-trip signal from Earth to Moon. Away from Mother Earth, this poses new challenges requiring autonomous systems. The next generation of Canadian robotics will be driven by artificial intelligence to fulfill this role. Scientists and engineers will also gain a better understanding of the space environment and its impact on astronaut’s health. Gateway: Proposed modules and preliminary design (Credit: NASA)   The announcement was accompanied with the Junior Astronauts initiative. This is significant as space is a domain that is undeniably multigenerational. To invest in education and space for Canada is central to the vision set out in the new Space Strategy. Securing the nation’s posterity is vital to enable and to ensure that Canada maintains its foothold in braving the next frontier. This can only be achieved if it maintains the imagination of young Canadians to set their gaze upon the stars and bolsters their capability, all the while keeping Earth in sight to showcase its benefits back home. Junior Astronauts program by the Canadian Space Agency (Credit: CSA)   The $150M committed to the Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program paves the way for scientific experiments and technology development on or around the Moon. The Strategy also calls for an update to regulatory frameworks and to strengthen commercial... Read more