Sudbury firm wins key space contract – by Jim Moodie (Sudbury Star – January 30, 2014)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

It would be a stretch to say he’s over the moon, but Dale Boucher is certainly excited by the chance his company’s drilling equipment could get on board for a lunar mission.

It’s a possibility that edged nearer to a probability this week, as the Canadian Space Agency awarded a contract to Deltion Innovations of Sudbury to tailor its technology to moon-like conditions. “It’s not a flight contract,” said Boucher. “But what it does is get us one step closer to that.”

Deltion’s DESTIN drill, which takes core samples, was put through its paces in 2012 at a NASA experiment in Hawaii. The Mauna Kea volcano features terrain similar to the cratered ball that orbits earth, and the Sudbury-designed drill did its bit, so to speak.

“It was a practice run and our system passed with flying colours,” said Boucher, adding the unit worked in conjunction with a rover designed by Neptec Designs. Last month, Deltion formed a strategic partnership with this Kanata-based company.

All of this was carried out in the context of a mission that NASA, in conjunction with other partners, is planning for 2018. The so-called Resource Prospector Mission would land equipment at the south pole of the moon to scout for water and extract samples for analysis, and “our drill fits that requirement perfectly,” said Boucher.

Canada has been invited to take part by supplying the drill and the rover, and Boucher is hoping Ottawa commits soon, because that would make the use of his company’s technology a near lock.

“The time is ticking on this, because we have about a month to make this decision,” he said. “If we don’t ante up we will get pushed away from the table.”

Other countries, like Korea, would be eager to get involved if Canada declines or delays too much. “The mission is going with international participants, one way or another, and Canada has an opportunity here. I hope we take it,” he said.

Should Canada pass, Deltion could still supply equipment on future resource excursions being hatched by other space agencies and private industries, but the NASA flight to dig for water and minerals “is the first opportunity for this drill to become a prospecting tool” and would really boost the company’s profile in the evolving sector of extraterrestrial mining, he said.

“If our technology actually flies, it would put us at the top of the heap,” said Boucher. “And it would help to create this new sector of space-mining equipment, leveraging Sudbury’s great capabilities, all of that stuff.”

While the Canadian Space Agency contract doesn’t guarantee a role for the drill aboard the 2018 NASA flight, it certainly points Deltion’s work in that direction.

The objective, said Boucher, is to enhance and fine-tune the DESTIN drill for use in a lunar environment. The company will fabricate a bit capable of extracting a core in conditions as icy as -180 C, as well as in a vacuum, and test it in experiments involving simulated moon dirt.

Boucher declined to put a figure on the contract but said it would involve just less than a year of work and the company will be hiring in the near future.

Whether the drilling equipment is dispatched to the moon at the first available opportunity or awaits another opportunity on that surface — or some platinum-rich asteroid — the Deltion CEO believes the country, and Sudbury in particular, stands to gain from this kind of innovation.

“We are suggesting this is really the next kind of Canadarm success,” said Boucher. “The difference being we believe that with this space-mining technology we can actually create a new economic sector.”

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