During the 2012 August long weekend here in Ontario we had the chance to go out to the Canadian Space Agency headquarters in St. Hubert, Quebec for their #CSAtweetup of Curiosity’s landing on Mars. Later that morning we were invited back for the day to get a tour of the facilities and a behind the scenes look at some of the projects they’re currently supporting.
As a major innovator in robotic technologies the CSA is responsible for a number of different aspects of the rover program. Take for example our contribution to Curiosity, roughly the size of a Rubik’s cube, APXS is a rather powerful spectrometer that will be used to analyze samples for its elemental makeup and any trace elements that might be found which might prove the existence of life at some point on the planet. This instrument is in fact an updated version of the spectrometers that were used on the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) and Mars Pathfinder missions.
In addition we also got to see how they support remote operation of these devices from the training of operators to the testing of equipment in locations around the world that mimic some of the environments they end up sending their more advanced counterparts to, and the research they’ll be doing there when they arrive. In fact while we were outside getting a demonstration of some rovers going for a spin, we also got to see the trailer that usually accompanies units being tested in the field, and heard about work being done to incorporate WiFi technologies into their construction to turn the rovers into mobile networks that can be used to manipulate units that might otherwise be inaccessible to direct instruction from Earth.
For the gamers out there it appears your skills could also be put to good use piloting these for the Space Agency.
Here’s some video we snagged when they took us out to the rover test pit (runs about 3:20 minutes long). It unfortunately was a very windy day and so we had to forgo audio, which is too bad as the Director of Space Exploration was telling us more about their work on various aspects of the rovers.