WATER ON THE MOON
WINNIPEG’S MAGELLAN AEROSPACE AWARDED CONTRACT TO HELP FIND IT
By Suzanne Forcese
The Government of Canada announced on February 25, 2020, that “Canada has joined humanity’s return to the Moon – an investment in science, innovation and research to unlock new opportunities for economic growth and to help us answer important questions about our planet, universe and ourselves.”
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has awarded seven contracts worth a total of $4.36 Million to five companies and one university from CSA’s Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program (LEAP). The funds have been designated to small and medium sized businesses that will help develop technologies for use and testing in lunar orbit and on the Moon’s surface.
Magellan Aerospace in Winnipeg, Manitoba, has been awarded $607,258 to develop a lunar impactor probe that will deliver instruments to the surface of the Moon, including sensors to detect water in the permanently shadowed regions of the Moon.
WaterToday spoke with aerospace engineer, Eric Choi, Magellan’s Senior Business Development Manager.
Magellan has been in the rocket industry for 60 years. “Canada’s first venture into space was the inaugural launch of the Black Brant- 1 sounding rocket on September 5, 1959, which took place three years before the launch of the first Canadian Satellite Alouette 1,” Choi told WT about one of Winnipeg’s best kept secrets. “I think it’s the Canadian way. We tend to be very modest about our achievements.”
Modesty aside, the Black Brants remain the suborbital vehicle of choice for interdisciplinary space researchers worldwide.
The Black Brant - Photo Courtesy Magellan Aerospace Winnipeg
“We are very grateful and excited to be chosen by CSA to provide a cost-effective platform to advance scientific investigations on the Moon.”
“The lunar impactor probe will be like a giant lawn dart,” Choi said. “The projectile would be deployed from a rocket and fall to the Moon’s surface, hitting at a velocity that would be great enough to allow it to bury in the Moon’s ground.”
Lunar science robotic rovers have the capacity to travel the Moon’s terrain; however, there are areas of deep craters that prohibit this means of exploration. “The probe is a simple, feasible and low-cost way to examine those areas, especially on the permanently shadowed areas of the Moon.”
Although the probe is still in the design phase, Choi told us that prior to the CSA contract Magellan had developed a similar impactor to study the icy moons of the outer Solar System.
“There are parts of the Moon where we think there could be icy deposits. There is evidence to indicate higher concentrations of Hydrogen in those parts. Hydrogen doesn’t just hang out by itself. It is usually bound up with something else. And that is probably Oxygen.”
Choi is confident water will be found based on previous discoveries. Since the l960’s, scientists have suspected that ice water could be trapped within the lunar soil. In 2008, the Indian Mission Chandrayaan-1 detected hydroxyl molecules spread across the lunar surface and concentrated at the poles. In 2010 the LCROSS (Lunar Crater Observation & Sensing Satellite) deliberately impacted its launch vehicle into the southern crater ejecting a plume that contained water ice.
In 2019 researchers from NASA reported that streams of meteoroids striking the Moon infused the thin lunar atmosphere with a short-lived water vapor. To release water, the meteoroids had to penetrate at least 8 cm below the surface.
Choi adds that although it would be logical to assume that if there is water there is life it is extremely unlikely that present or past life forms exist on the Moon because of its barren and cold environment. The future however is another possibility.
As far as a future settlement on the Moon for scientific investigation or as a stopover on the way to Mars, Choi says we are still several years away from that. “We will have to come up with practical steps to process drinking water and also break down Oxygen and Hydrogen. The Oxygen we would need to be able to breathe on the Moon and the Hydrogen we would need for fuel.”
“Canada’s plans at the moment are not that ambitious. For now, we are committed to provide robotics to the Lunar Gateway Station and we are most grateful for this opportunity.”
While much of the public focus on the moon has been centered on the human aspect of the NASA-led Artemis program, including the Lunar Gateway, much of the work on the moon’s surface will be robotic. Canada is leading the way with a variety of technologies, both for scientific research and future commercial use of local resources. Mission control and other companies are working on getting some initial scientific payloads to the surface, hopefully within the next five years.
There is a supply chain Choi adds. “As in any endeavour it is never just one company. We expect to have other partners.”
“The difference between the Apollo program and our current efforts is that the Apollo was a U.S. Government activity. This is truly an International effort. It is also a partnership that involves innovation, academia and businesses like Magellan.”
“From a scientific standpoint,” Choi continues, “it is very exciting. Since the Apollo program there has been a huge scientific bonanza. Samples brought back from the Moon have unlocked secrets. We are still learning about the Moon. There have been so many tech spin-offs in the material sciences. The genesis of computers and hand-held devices can be traced back to the Apollo program. The environment and climate awareness are also burgeoning sciences – based on what we are learning.”
From a philosophical standpoint Choi reminds us that the first Earth Day (1970) occurred a few months after the first Apollo landing. “Seeing our beautiful blue Earth hanging in space – the home for all humanity—evoked our awareness.”
“According to the terms of The Outer Space Treaty, the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes.”
Reach for the moon and you will find the stars.
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