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Innovation centre wins $3 million NASA contract

 

The Northern Centre for Advanced Technology has won a $3 million contract from the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to build a drill capable of penetrating the lunar surface to a depth of one metre. 

The three-year contract follows several years of space drill prototype development by NORCAT for both NASA and the Canadian Space Agency. This time, NORCAT and its private sector partner Electric Vehicle Controllers Ltd., will build a so-called proto-flight drill conforming to the size required for conveyance to the moon.


The Sudbury-based product development and innovation centre will also be required to demonstrate the drill in moon-like conditions.


According to NORCAT prototype development manager Dale Boucher, the drill will be required to penetrate to a depth of one metre, extract a core sample, crush it and hand it off for analysis to another piece of equipment.


The electric-powered drill will likely be deployed at the South Pole of the moon, where scientists hope to confirm the presence of water and determine the feasibility of manufacturing oxygen and fuel to support a human colony.


A cryogenic chamber made available to NORCAT by the Canadian Space Agency will be used to test the performance of the drill at temperatures of -235 degrees Celsius, which are found at the South Pole of the moon.


“We thought long and hard about whether we would build the drill ourselves in Sudbury or contract out the construction to a company with experience in manufacturing machinery for space, but ultimately made the decision to do it here,” said Boucher.


One of the main challenges NORCAT will have to contend with will be protecting the drill components from highly abrasive moon dust.


Sudbury is an ideal location to design and develop a drill for mining operations on the moon, said Boucher. “Being part of a the mining community, we have access to all kinds of expertise and are able to tap into it to assist us in overcoming challenges that we encounter along the way.”


NORCAT was also recently awarded a $500,000 contract by the Canadian Space Agency to continue work on the development of a second drill capable of penetrating to a depth of 15 metres.


“We have also had inquiries from the European and Japanese space agencies, but we were concerned about being stretched too thin,” said Boucher.

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