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The Globe and Mail

Ottawa to study building Canada-made moon rovers

A new lunar rover vehicle that U.S. space agency NASA is testing goes through its paces in Black Point, Arizona, October 24, 2008. The Small Pressurized Rover Concept vehicle is designed to carry two astronauts without space suits, sitting in a pressurized compartment, when NASA returns to lunar exploration by 2020. The vehicle is being tested in a remote corner of Arizona with similar surface conditions to those found on the moon. It has a range of up to 625 miles (1,000 km).

Tim Gaynor/Reuters/Tim Gaynor/Reuters

The federal government has announced plans to spend up to $500,000 to study the construction of a made-in-Canada lunar rover. The ultimate aim is to discover ice or new geological phenomena on the moon.

Ottawa is now soliciting bids for the study.

The goal of the micro rover would be to explore the rough terrain on the moon, pursuing new discoveries in areas unreachable by astronauts or by larger lunar dune buggies.

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"As evidenced from past Mars exploration missions, some of the most scientifically interesting sites tend to be in areas that are difficult and also dangerous to reach, such as in craters, steep hills, or in heavily rock-strewn areas," says the request for proposals.

"Similarly, the science rich areas on the Moon are expected to be the South Pole, where there is a possibility of finding ice, (as well as) the central peaks and crater rims of major craters."

This represents the latest step in the Canadian Space Agency's strategy to move from robotic arms to developing rovers that will be scurrying around the moon, Mars and beyond.

The agency is already working on developing two large lunar rover prototypes, each of which has a budget of $11 million.

The two rovers could be upgraded to actually carry astronauts – and not just do scientific exploration.

Canadian scientists hope the mission might determine the nature and extent of water and hydrogen, believed to be at the moon's north and south poles.

The mission will require international collaboration to ship the rover to the moon because Canada doesn't have the space-transportation capabilities.

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The micro rover would be used as a stand-alone system or in combination with bigger vehicles.

MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) has also been awarded a $6-million contract to develop a prototype for a Mars rover.

The federal call for micro-rover proposals comes just days after the final teams were announced for the Google Lunar X prize, the latest race to the moon.

A Vancouver group is one of 29 privately funded teams from 17 countries trying to land a spacecraft on the lunar surface before the end of 2015 in order to win a chunk of $30 million in prize money.

The competition's grand prize is worth $20 million. But as an extra incentive for teams to work quickly, the grand prize value will drop to $15 million if a government-funded mission successfully explores the lunar surface first.

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