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Canada in Space: To the Moon and Beyond

On July 21, 1969, US astronaut Neil Armstrong exited a lunar landing module piloted by Buzz Aldrin and stepped onto the surface of the Moon, the climax of an astonishing human endeavour. But did you know that Aldrin’s successful lunar touch down was made possible by landing gear built by Héroux Aerospace of Longueuil, Quebec?1

Fifty-five years later Canadian astronauts are training to fly to the Moon as part of the Lunar Gateway project, a space station that will support crewed trips to the Moon and beyond. A Canadian designed and built vehicle will drive around the Moon’s surface, Canadian satellites are being blasted into space by Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Canadian technology will help track the rapidly growing amount of space traffic circling Earth.

By the time Armstrong took his famous walk we’d been collaborating with the US on space research and development for more than decade. Between 1957-58, we jointly developed the Churchill Research Range in northern Manitoba for launching suborbital sounding rockets to probe the upper atmosphere. Many of the more than 3,500 rockets that went up during the next 40 years were manufactured in Winnipeg by Bristol Aerospace, a company later acquired by Magellan Aerospace (more on them below). 2

And you probably remember the Canadarm, a 15-metre robotic arm developed for external operations and experiments as part of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program (1981-2011). Marc Garneau, our first Canadian astronaut, led a series of Canadian experiments on board the shuttle Challenger in 1984. Today, an AI enabled Canadarm3 is in development for the Lunar Gateway. In addition to NASA, the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) Gateway partners are the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the UAE’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre.

In return for contributing Canadarm3, Canada will participate in various Gateway science, technology, and commercial projects, plus two lunar astronaut flights. CSA astronaut Jeremy Hansen will join Artemis II, the first crewed mission to the Moon since 1972. Gateway will build on research conducted on the International Space Station (ISS). We’ve been part of the ISS from inception and since its launch in 1998 seven Canadian astronauts have completed nine missions to manage 24 research projects. ISS has been continuously occupied for 26 years, with 279 individuals visiting it from 22 countries. Alberta’s Joshua Kutryk, our next ISS astronaut, will head up in 2025 and live aboard for approximately six months. 3

The CSA, established by parliament in 1990, is the lead on collaborating with NASA and other global space agencies. CSA president Lisa Campbell is responsible to the federal minister of innovation, science and industry (currently François-Philippe Champagne). In addition to its own work the CSA draws on the space science and technology expertise of several Canadian companies.  Here are a few:

  • MDA Space Ltd. (formerly MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates) Founded in Vancouver in 1969, MDA specializes in robotics, earth and space observation, satellite communications, and space science. MDA currently works with the CSA on both the ISS and Gateway, including the development of Canadarm3. MDA, which has had a series of Canadian and US owners, is a S&P/TSX Composite Index company. On May 29, 2024, MDA Space bought part of Starlab Space, a joint venture building a commercial space station. MDA’s Starlab partners are Voyager Space, Airbus Defence and Space, and Mitsubishi Corp. 4
  • Magellan Aerospace designs and manufactures aeroengine and aerostructure assemblies and components for global aerospace markets, including defence and space agencies. Founded in 1996 by Alberta billionaire (and majority shareholder) Murray Edwards, TSX-listed Magellan operates units across North America, Europe, and India and earns more than half of its revenue in the US and Europe. Magellan was recently awarded a contract in support of NASA’s Sounding Rocket Program. 5
  • Canadensys Aerospace Corporation is an Ontario-based, privately held space systems and advanced vehicle development company founded in 2013 by former MDA employees. Canadensys is developing a lunar rover as part of the CSA’s Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program. The vehicle will explore the moon’s surface, particularly in search of frozen water near the Moon’s south pole, as part of a CSA initiative. In March, 2024, Canadensys technology was used in the first US Moon lander to make a soft touchdown since the 1972 Apollo 17 mission.6
  • NorthStar Earth & Space Inc. focuses on space situational awareness (SSA) and Earth observation. Founded in 2015 by Montreal’s Telesystem and KinetX, an American engineering firm, NorthStar develops real-time tracking and monitoring of 500,000+ space objects to help manage traffic orbiting Earth. NorthStar’s SSA system will eventually grow to an array of 40 satellites. By the end of 2023, NorthStar had raised $143 million in several funding rounds. In addition to Telesytem and KinetX, investors include the Space Alliance of Europe (Thales Alenia Space and Telespazio), the Government of Quebec and the Government of Canada. 7

This is just a brief summary of some current Canadian space initiatives. It truly is “the final frontier”, as one Captain James T. Kirk said, and we’re deeply involved in global efforts to push the boundaries of human space travel in our lifetime and beyond. Buckle up!


1 https://www.herouxdevtek.com/en/about-us/history

2 Canadian space milestones | Canadian Space Agency (asc-csa.gc.ca)

3 Canadian space milestones | Canadian Space Agency (asc-csa.gc.ca)

4 https://spacenews.com/mda-space-joins-starlab-space-commercial-space-station-venture/

5 https://magellan.aero/press-release/magellan-aerospace-signs-agreement-with-peraton-to-support-nasa-sounding-rocket-program/

6 After a Soft Lunar Touchdown, Canadensys Plans More Missions to the Moon – SpaceQ

7 NorthStar raises $15 million for debris-tracking satellites waiting on Rocket Lab – SpaceNews