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Canadensys: Bringing space a little closer

March 30, 2022   ·   0 Comments

By Mark Pavilons

Passion, expertise and true Canadian spirit propel a Bolton firm into outer space.
In fact, Canadensys Aerospace Corporation is among the cream of the crop in Canadian space systems.
It’s so well regarded that it’s one of the suppliers of choice for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).
It’s very much rocket science within the company’s Bolton headquarters and its in-house team does everything from concept design, to working prototypes of components, and entire space exploration vehicles. The company is designing a lunar rover which it intends to be Canada’s first to explore the Moon within the next few years.
That’s something president and CEO Christian Sallaberger is quite proud of. It’s been his passion since opening the 100% Canadian-owned and operated firm in 2013. The company has always been low key, but Sallaberger wears his national pride like an Olympic athlete.
In fact, the name Canadensys actually means Canadian in Latin.
Riding the “Newspace” wave – the commercial approach to leveraging space for private enterprise – Canadensys believes “space is for everyone” and is a big part of dozens of missions and projects.
Top of mind is the expanded exploration of the moon, which includes supplying the 30-kg. lunar rover to conduct scientific research. The company has been front and centre with the CSA, winning almost every lunar rover contract in the past decade. They are the go-to firm to get the Maple Leaf on the Moon.
Canadensys Aerospace Corporation worked with the CSA on the Scalable Wheels and Advanced Rover Motion (SWARM) project for the Juno rover. They’ve developed a special wheel prototype that can withstand the rigours of lunar and other extraterrestrial surfaces and allow us to travel longer and farther. This project was funded by the CSA under the Space Technology Development Program (STDP).
The SWARM wheel prototype addressed these challenges, borrowing design elements from multiple generations of previous lunar rover wheel prototypes. The SWARM PHASR concept prototype consists of 20 ground-contacting traction plates, each of which is located by a pair of leaf springs and a pair of tension cables.
Staff at the Bolton facility are leading a multi-disciplinary team and network of Canadian and international partners. Canadensys provides everything from design, project management, hardware, mission planning, analysis and simulated field testing.
King Township’s Jim Middleton, the company’s director of strategy and operations, has been involved in space exploration since the 1970s. He is known for his work on the initial Canadarm used on NASA space shuttles, and was responsible for creating the robotic arms on the ISS. The success of the Canadarm solidified Canada’s participation in the space program and set the stage for Canadian technological prowess.
The firm is on the leading edge of several important technological advancements – including creating devices that can withstand the extremely cold lunar night. Temperatures on the Moon can dip to -183 degrees (Celsius). Canadensys regularly tests the spaceflight hardware it manufactures for its international lunar customers to these temperature extremes using its in-house cryogenic test facilities. Plus, lunar vehicles have to contend with the jagged, abrasive lunar dust, which can wreak havoc on machinery and moving parts, which is another area of design expertise for the firm.
While excitement builds for future missions to Mars, the Moon has become the nearest testing ground for many space technologies. The lunar surface has a high radiation environment, very abrasive dust, dramatic temperatures swings between day and night, and is far enough from earth that communications become an issue as well. Sallaberger pointed out if you can create a space system that can operate on the lunar surface, including surviving through the lunar night, you’ve overcome the major hurdle, and “the system is so robust that it is bullet-proof for use in almost any other destination in our solar system”
The firm’s robust space camera technology, used on everything from satellites to landing craft, is highly sought after from agencies and companies around the globe.
Specialized Qualification Testing is carried out in-house and at other facilities including the University of British Columbia and University of Toronto. They also have agreements in place with NASA, which is unusual for a non-American aerospace firm. Canadensys has been selected by NASA to provide an upcoming lunar mission with a multi-spectral microscope. The company is also a member of eight different U.S.-led teams that NASA is considering to fund for various missions to the Moon.
Just more feathers in the company’s cap.
Many have set their sights on the Moon as the next frontier for space exploration. A human Moon mission will take place within five years, Sallaberger said.
Preliminary missions will carry out various surveys, tests and more, helping to establish a presence. One of the first will be an unmanned observatory on the moon’s south pole.
There’s still much to be discovered about our orbiting neighbour. Recent discoveries of large caves and lava tubes may provide a perfect environment for a human habitat. Canadensys is involved in many projects that will ultimately map, survey and evaluate the conditions on the moon, setting the stage for all future exploration. For example, Canadensys has recently completed work for the European Space Agency that examined how buried lunar lava tube caves could be found using surface rovers equipped with ground penetrating radar and gravimeters.
All of this has led to Canadensys being very integrated into the global space industry supply chain.
“It’s a great story from a Canadian perspective – Partners and customers around the world recognize the technical skills available in Canada’s space industry,” Sallaberger said.
From commercial payloads such as the ILO-X & ILO-1 lunar observatories, which Canadensys is designing and manufacturing for the International Lunar Observatory Association, and the provision of key enabling technologies to the first wave of commercial orbiters and landers heading back to the Moon and onwards to Mars over the next 5 years, Canadensys is proud to be contributing to this next exciting chapter of humanity’s expansion beyond Earth orbit.
Low-temperature avionics, sensors, mechanisms, structures and thermal control are all Canadensys technologies developed with the goal of providing low-cost mission robustness at a fraction of traditional costs, and next-generation architecture performance – from deep-space longevity and lunar- night survival to high-reliability mechanisms and mobility, space-based situational awareness and autonomous robotic operation.
Other exciting work going on at Canadensys include developing plant growth systems that will be able to grow plants on the Moon. Canadensys is leading several activities in this area, supported by CSA and a NASA center, as well as the scientists at Guelph University who are world-leading pioneers researching plant growth in space. The goal of the efforts by Canadensys and its partners is to provide local agricultural food production in the future for astronauts living in outposts and bases on the Moon.
Sallaberger highlighted the invaluable partnership Canadensys has with the Canadian Space Agency. While collaborative activities with the CSA represent only a very small fraction of Canadensys business, and over 80% of the firm’s revenues are commercial exports, this export success has been enabled by CSA support. The CSA has invested in several technology developments at Canadensys. This has often taken the form of R&D at Canadensys that is co-funded by the firm and the CSA. Canadensys then leverages these technologies to create new international export markets for its space hardware and services.
Sallaberger said: “We are extremely grateful for our relationship with the Canadian Space Agency. Our tremendous growth and commercial export success would not have been possible without the wise early investments of the CSA.”
Interestingly, several of the space technologies and space design methodologies have benefits right back here on terra firma. Many of the company’s space activities have a number of “terrestrial spin-offs” – applications on earth.
“The engineering methods we’ve developed through our contract with the CSA have worked well for terrestrial markets. We are using the same team that developed the SWARM wheel to develop high-traction wheels for off-road use such as mining, logging, and defence applications,” said Peter Visscher, the General Manager of the Canadensys facility in Stratford, Ontario. “Our experience with the SWARM wheel taught us to think outside the box (or circle if you wish) and come up with innovative and unique solutions for extreme conditions in both space and terrestrial applications.”
Canadensys has also developed the Hybrid Amphibious Wheeled Carrier (HAWC) and the unmanned Raptor, which have piqued interest of mining and forestry customers as well as Canadian and European defence forces.
The firm has also worked with the provincial government to develop low-power autonomous vehicle navigation systems that can be used in non-GPS environments such as remote parts of northern Ontario as well as on the Moon.
Given the breadth of the company’s activities in space exploration and related areas, and role they are now playing on the world’s stage, this is truly a made-in-Canada success story. Rocket science – the technology that will actually improve humankind’s plight – is being developed and delivered right here at home.
And that’s their goal – to help move humanity into space.



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