When science meets space! Memorandum of Understanding between the NRC and the CSA will strengthen R&D collaboration in support of Canada's space program

- Ottawa, Ontario

Updated on: April 17, 2023

From flying zero-gravity missions on earth to growing food in remote or harsh conditions, to miniaturized lab-on-a-chip devices to monitor our astronauts' health, research experts at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) continue to work together to advance space science. On February 17, 2020, both organizations signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to continue to strengthen this collaboration for all future R&D and technology projects.

The RADARSAT Constellation Mission satellite

The NRC and the CSA signed the MoU at the NRC's aerospace research facilities at Uplands in Ottawa. With this agreement, both organizations established a framework to develop projects and investigate areas of mutual interest in support of Government of Canada's space policies and priorities and future space missions. The areas of collaboration in this agreement include earth observation, the development and testing of sensors, space technology and systems development, and scientific and technological expertise.

The NRC and the CSA have a long-standing history of collaboration in space-related research. This agreement formalized their relationship and enables them to continue to work together to help accelerate technological solutions and advance research excellence in space science.

Their respective science and engineering expertise will advance Canadian science and technology to benefit Canadians. These efforts promote Canada's continued excellence and ingenuity in space and generate solutions to important challenges on Earth.

The federal government's Budget 2023 also proposes to provide $76.5 million over 8 years to the Canadian Space Agency in support of Canadian science on the Lunar Gateway station. The NRC will continue to explore ways to support the CSA in this mission.

By recognizing the mutual scientific, technological, industrial, social and economic benefits that cooperation in space science, research, technology, services, applications and governance will bring, both parties will advance their knowledge on current and future projects.

Since signing the MoU, the NRC and the CSA have held annual sessions to monitor the effectiveness and applicability of the MoU and explore potential new areas of collaboration including quantum technology, deep space healthcare and AI-enabled deep space robotics.

A history of collaborations

Since the CSA's inception as a spin-off from the NRC, both organizations have been collaborating on numerous projects to tackle technology development challenges and deliver innovative solutions for space.

Over the past 8 years alone, the organizations have partnered on 77 projects across 11 of the NRC's research centres, some of which are still ongoing. The projects have spanned various research areas including microgravity research, health technologies and data management through the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre (CADC), as well as the following examples:

  • With help from researchers at the CSA, the CADC helps to make big data manageable. Half of the world's astronomy community accesses CADC data in a typical year, much of it acquired using CSA-supported space observing platforms. The CADC provides cloud computing and data hosting for teams using the James Webb Space Telescope. Canadian Webb users will, among other activities, engage in studies of Earth-like planets around other stars.
  • The NRC also supports the CSA in advancing the Cosmological Advanced Survey Telescope for Optical and UV Research (CASTOR) as a Canadian-led international space mission.
  • The NRC and the CSA are jointly developing MicroPREP, which is currently in the prototype and testing phase. MicroPREP is a portable system designed for biological sample preparation to help astronauts better monitor their health during long stays in space. This innovation could be used to deliver the same services for remote communities that do not have access to the large medical laboratories found in urban areas.
  •  The NRC is also working on a complementary project with the German Space Agency and CSA to develop diagnostics for reduced astronaut immunity caused by time spent in space environments. The work is part of a larger initiative for space immunity involving the European Space Agency, NASA, the CSA, the Hospital of the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, and the NRC.
  • The NRC and the CSA are collaborating to "fly" fundamental and applied research projects in microgravity. Using the NRC's Falcon 20 aircraft, we have provided microgravity familiarization to astronauts and astronaut candidates, and have conducted risk reduction microgravity flight testing on space-based platforms like the International Space Station. This relationship has supported academic research, industry and students like those in the Canadian Reduced Gravity Experiment (CAN-RGX) challenge. The NRC is working with the CSA on building capabilities, science and technology in satellite earth observations. For example, the CSA provided a specialized vacuum tube used to amplify radio frequencies for the development of the NRC Airborne X-band radar system, which offers unique data on cloud structures and processes.
  • The NRC is working with a consortium of Canadian universities and the CSA called HAWC (High-altitude Aerosols, Water vapour and Clouds). HAWC is a planned Canadian mission that will provide critical data to support extreme weather predictions, climate modelling and monitoring of disasters. NRC aircraft will be equipped with instruments that will measure aerosols and clouds, and provide data on how they interact and impact Earth's weather and climate.
  • The NRC and the CSA are developing a research and testing facility in Saskatoon to advance technology for sustainable production of fresh food across a range of environments in Canada, including growing traditional fruits and vegetables in northern and remote communities. This collaborative multi-user facility project will help inform government, academic, not-for-profit and industry partners on how growth technologies and infrastructure can be delivered in a number of harsh and isolated locations.
  • The NRC's High-throughput and Secure Networks (HTSN) Challenge program is providing the CSA with $2.1 million in funding over 4 years for the development of an Optical Quantum Ground Station (OQGS) that will be used in the Quantum EncrYption and Science Satellite (QEYSSat) mission. The collaboration aims to demonstrate the potential for quantum key distribution, a secure communication method for exchanging encryption keys between parties, as well as a high-speed classical ground-satellite optical link. The NRC is a member of the Executive QEYSSat Science team and  will have dedicated access to ground station observing time. The OQGS will also enable the program and its Optical Satcom Consortium collaborators to leverage high-throughput optical demonstration and communication experiments.

Additionally, the NRC Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP) and the CSA have an existing MoU supporting Canadian small and medium-sized businesses with research and development projects focused on creating biomedical and healthcare solutions for deep space exploration. Since February 2020, NRC IRAP has funded 18 projects as part of a separate MoU between both parties to support businesses conducting R&D projects in other space-related technologies such as robotics and autonomous operations.

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