Orion spacecraft | SkyNews
The Orion spacecraft for the Artemis I mission splashed down in the Pacific Ocean after a 25.5-day mission to the Moon, at 12:40 p.m. EST on Dec. 11, 2022. (NASA/James M. Blair)

Artemis success opens new chapter for Canada in space

Artemis II will include three Americans and a Canadian, making Canada the second nation to have an astronaut orbit the Moon.

The inaugural Artemis mission proves NASA’s Orion spacecraft can survive a trip to the Moon and back. The next Artemis mission, which involves sending a crew to lunar orbit in 2024, will be part of a new era of space exploration for Canada. 

Artemis II will include three Americans and a Canadian, making Canada the second nation to have an astronaut orbit the Moon. The flight path mirrors the Artemis I route, but will take 10 days instead of the 25 Orion recently spent in space.

“We just witnessed the first of a multi-mission campaign aimed at bringing sustainable human presence to the Moon’s orbit and its surface,” said Lisa Campbell, president of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in a statement. 

She added that the country’s space legacy is more alive than ever. “Canadians of all ages and backgrounds are eagerly waiting to see how this new chapter unfolds.”

Orion gazes at the Moon before returning to Earth. (NASA) | SkyNews
Orion gazes at the Moon before returning to Earth. (NASA)

Since 2019, the CSA entered into an agreement with NASA and the commercial sector to join future and ongoing lunar missions. A Canadian-designed lander, led by the Japanese robotics company ispace, will hitchhike to the Moon onboard Mission 1. It was sent into orbit by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket hours before Orion returned to Earth.

Canadensys of Bolton, Ontario, provided an artificial intelligence-enabled 360-degree imaging system. And Ottawa-based company Mission Control Space Services contributed an AI flight computer classifying geological features. The analysis is usually done on Earth. NGC Aerospace in Sherbrooke, Québec, will use lunar imagery to test their planetary navigation system. This would work similar to a GPS on Earth. 

“This launch is one more example of [the] Canadian industry leading the way in this thrilling new era of space exploration,” said François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, in a statement. “These technologies will help enhance capabilities and lower mission costs while positioning Canada as a partner of choice for future space endeavours.”

Meanwhile, Canada is providing the Canadarm3 robotic system to the Lunar Gateway space station. The station will be built in lunar orbit starting in late 2024. Canadarm3 will arrive in 2027.

Work has already started on a Canadian-led lunar rover mission for 2026. The unnamed 30-kilogram rover will search the Moon’s southern polar region for water ice in the soil. It will carry out its mission with five instruments designed by Canadians and one designed by NASA. Operations will be controlled in Canada, while scientists in Canada and the United States will have access to mission data.

NASA director Bill Nelson said agreements with other countries and the private sector are critical for NASA’s short-term and long-term goals. This includes developing bases on the lunar surface and a crewed mission to Mars in the late 2030s.

“This time we go back to the Moon to learn, to live, to work, to advance, [and] to create in order to go on out into the cosmos to further explore,” he said during a press conference. “We know from what we are finding from the James Webb Space Telescope that it is a very, very large universe out there to be understood and explored.”

Nelson brushed off suggestions that the public would eventually lose interest in these missions. Or that politicians in the United States and partner countries would pull their political and financial support.

NASA and the CSA have not announced who will be on upcoming Artemis missions. When that happens, Nelson predicts the media frenzy and public interest surrounding those astronauts will be comparable to when NASA named its first seven astronauts for the Mercury program in 1959.

“This is a great day not only for America, but it’s a great day for all of our international partners,” said Nelson.