The space sector will be watching Ottawa this week for clues into whether Canada will sign onto a historic NASA project to build a new space station 1,000 times farther than the current International Space Station that would serve as a base to explore lunar minerals and as a pivot point to Mars.
POLITICO Pro Canada reports that the sector will be watching a conference in Ottawa this week, where NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine will speak, as will Navdeep Bains, the minister who oversees the Canadian Space Agency.
NASA has asked Canada to supply robotics for the project, but Ottawa must decide whether to spend the estimated $1 billion to $2 billion over 20 years that it would take to fund the project to build robotics equipped with artificial intelligence that the station will need.
Two Canadian officials tell POLITICO to expect additional signals of interest from Canada at this week’s event, without a firm financial commitment yet.
Officials say the funding decision will likely happen closer to next year’s Canadian federal budget.
A major industry player also said it sees the budget as a make-or-break moment to decide whether Canada will supply long-term funding for Gateway.
Maxar’s MDA company, which owns the iconic Canadarm, told POLITICO that if Canada doesn’t commit funding next, NASA and MD will look elsewhere for countries to build the Gateway robotics.
“Our expansion for Lunar Gateway would happen outside of Canada,” said Mike Greenley, group president of MDA, now owned by Maxar Technologies based in Colorado.
“We would follow the money.”
The collective hit could be big: The subsidiary has 1,900 employees in Canada, out of 6,500 Maxar employees worldwide. Greenley expects several hundred companies, plus academic institutions, would be involved with his company on the next NASA program.