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Friday, 7 November 2014

The Northern Light Mission

With so many space missions coming up, it can be easy to miss one. While I have been looking for work in Europe, I was impressed and surprised to hear of a mission being developed in Toronto, Canada, by people from my old university. What follows here is some information on the Northern Light Mission, what it is, why it's important, and how you can contribute.

What is it?

According to their website, Light is, 
"a compact Mars lander and rover system equipped with sophisticated scientific instruments to examine the Martian environment."
Norther Light lander concept
Simply put, it is a robotic mission to Mars, which is trying to learn more about Mars' atmosphere, surface, and subsurface. The project is being led by Canadian company Thoth Technology and York University's Lassonde School of Engineering. They want to "piggyback" their mission with another going to Mars, hoping to launch by 2018.

Why is it important?

First off, it is important because it will be the first Canadian-led mission to the Red Planet. Canada has contributed to several missions in space and other planets, most notably the Canadarm 1, 2, and Dextre, featured on the back of our $5 bill. However, as vast as Canada's contribution is, it is often peripheral, auxiliary. This is a chance for Canada to take the lead.
No, not like that!
Secondly, it is important because it is a commercial space venture. Anyone who has listened to the news lately has likely heard of SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, private companies hoping to commercialize space activities, make it profitable and accessible to all, and the Northern Light project is trying to continue this trend.

To those who work in the space industry, this mission's importance may be very obvious: development of new technology; demonstration/standardization/development of existing technology and spacecraft equipment; enhancing the Canadian profile; and of course more science performed and data obtained from Mars.

But to those not working in the space industry, perhaps the mission's importance is not obvious. 

Should Northern Light be successful, it will prove to space agencies around the world that commercial companies have what it takes to develop these planetary missions. It will force government agencies to reevaluate how they do business. This may cause an internal change within the Agency, forcing them to develop cheaper missions, more quickly, with the same reliability. Or it may cause an external change, prompting the Agency to turn to private companies to develop certain missions, such as how NASA is encouraging private companies to manage resupply of the International Space Station.

In either case, space missions will become more common, cheaper, and more reliable. They will also become more profitable, driving business, and improving the economies of those who endorse space activities.

For Canadians especially, the mission will serve to not only inspire a new generation of engineers and scientists, but it will provide the currently-existing engineers and scientists opportunities for work and developing their field. Canada has a large number of qualified space engineers and scientists but, far too often, they find a lack of opportunity. They change fields, sometimes moving laterally into a related field, sometimes changing completely. They drop out of school, give up on the idea of developing space missions in Canada, or if they're still persistent, they move to another country where space activities are promoted more ubiquitously.

All in all, the Northern Light mission is an inspiring opportunity, one which I hope is successful, and one I will continue to support.

How you can contribute?

Speaking of support, there is a way you can help, should you be interested. The mission is looking for public funding, and have created an Indiegogo page just for that. There, you may find more information about the mission, and what prizes you will receive for your contribution! 

If you're generous enough, you could even get your name inscribed on the spacecraft!

Thanks for reading, stay tuned for more mission news, and check out these links for more information on Northern Light!

Mars Rocks webpage
Facebook page
Twitter page

Northern Light in the news!
CBC news
The Ottawa Citizen
Global news

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