Canadian researchers shoot for the moon to further space exploration
A national team of researchers from Simon Fraser University, the University of Manitoba, and McGill University will design the tools needed to collect unprecedented new details about the moon’s surface, as part of the Canadian Space Agency’s plans for lunar exploration, announced today.
Led by SFU professor Behraad Bahreyni, the new tools will be used in conjunction with a newly-designed space rover that will be built to explore the moon, as Canada moves forward with plans to advance our understanding of the lunar subsurface.
To date, the sparse seismic and gravity measurements from the Apollo missions have been the only surface-based, high-resolution gravimetric data available to scientists.
“After more than 50 years since the moon landing, we still have limited knowledge on the fundamental geophysical properties of the moon,” says Bahreyni, director of SFU’s Intelligent Sensing Laboratory (ISL), and a professor in SFU’s School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering (MSE).
The federal Ministry of Innovation, Science and Industry is supporting the research as part of $3 million in technology initiatives for lunar exploration. Also announced are plans to build Canadarm3 for the Lunar Gateway project, a move which will also secure two further crewed flight opportunities in deep space as part of the Artemis II mission.
Bahreyni’s team will create miniaturized seismometers and gravimeters designed to meet the stringent scientific requirements of space system design. These devices will be used to capture the most precise seismic and gravimetric models of the lunar subsurface to date, advancing fundamental scientific knowledge as well as providing insights that could inform future exploration and, potentially, inhabitation.
“The gravity and seismic data collected in the Apollo 17 mission remain the only direct measurements of gravitational accelerations on the moon, as the size and weight of existing gravimeters have prohibited their deployment in unmanned space missions ever since,” Bahreyni notes.
The new Canadian-made instruments, designed for future moon missions, will be small enough to be mounted on rovers. The tiny sensors will be able to capture and map the moon’s sub-surface geophysical structure and activities by taking detailed measurements at specific locations or across different sites.
Bahreyni says resolving basic questions related to geological phenomena and geophysical characteristics, which can’t be answered through low-resolution, satellite-based sensors, “will help scientists to properly understand the environment, and its potential for enabling human settlement on the moon at scales beyond the traditional reconnaissance and exploratory missions.”
The team will develop a Hybrid Gravimeter and Seismometer System (HGSS), based on existing data on lunar gravity and seismic activity. The integrated system will incorporate micromechanical devices, interface electronics, and signal processing algorithms—along with system-level protection mechanisms against vibration and radiation levels encountered in space missions.
In his SFU Surrey lab, Bahreyni’s research focuses on designing and fabricating sensing systems comprising micro or nano-mechanical systems, interface electronics and sensor signal processing. Researchers will use SFU’s 4D LABS in Burnaby to fabricate their prototypes, while SFU’s Centre for Natural Hazard Research (CNHR), led by Earth Sciences Chair and professor Glyn Williams-Jones, will develop new measurement approaches for monitoring geophysical hazards.
Eight postgraduate researchers will join five Canadian researchers from across Canada to carry out the research. Bahreyni says the project will also help propel Canada to the forefront of scientific discoveries and technological development for geophysical studies of extraterrestrial bodies over the long term.