Establishment of a Canadian Astromaterials Facility

Press Release From: Canadian Space Agency
Posted: Monday, November 12, 2001

The Space Exploration Advisory Committee (SEAC) advises the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Space Science Program on matters pertaining to space exploration in Canada. A SEAC subcommittee has been formed to study the feasibility of establishing a Canadian Astromaterials Facility (CAF). The subcommittee has identified a rationale, outlined the preferred nature of a CAF, and envisioned important links and upgrades to existing Canadian laboratories to complement a CAF. SEAC now needs response from the space exploration community in Canada to this initiative. If the community is supportive, the subcommittee also seeks to identify individuals and institutions that are interested in implementing such a facility.

The rationale for the creation of a CAF is that several sample-return missions (SRM's) are planned to return samples from extraterrestrial sources, within this decade and the next. Only a very small amount of material will be returned. There will be samples of comet nuclei (STARDUST), interplanetary and solar dust particles (IDP's, GENESIS), asteroids (Hera, MUSES-C), samples of dust and rock from Mars (MSR), and possibly more lunar samples. Upgrades to existing facilities, and planning for new ones, are proceeding now in the U.S., Europe, Japan, and elsewhere. These facilities are "mission-critical" in countries planning the SRM's. To participate in research on any samples, even from Canadian space missions, Canadian scientists will have to show that they are able to receive, handle, store, and analyze these materials in laboratories meeting specific requirements, and having proven capabilities. Therefore SEAC has identified the need to improve Canadian scientific and technical capacity to prepare for these opportunities.

A CAF would be a unique establishment for all scientists working in the field of space exploration, even prior to SRM's. All samples requiring special care (i.e. some terrestrial analogue and meteorite samples, space exposed hardware) could benefit from its curation, storage, handling and analytical capabilities. A primary facility with a superior analytical capability would enable a network of Canadians from academia, industry, and government to use it to advance space exploration sciences worldwide. By having this primary facility close to one or more established institutions, to people already doing related research, the need to draw human resources away from these institutions would be minimized and the operating costs would be reduced.

In addition to a primary facility, nation-wide improvements to research infrastructure are needed: a network of existing labs, upgraded to appropriately controlled environments, to handle routine analyses to complement the superior capability of the CAF. Linking together Canadian expertise in the CAF and through laboratory networks would help scientists gain access to samples. Strong science teams would be formed; analytical capabilities would be upgraded; and collaboration among Canada's top scientists would lead to many exciting discoveries that prove our abilities.

The Facilities Subcommittee is convinced that the time and effort required for this project is worthwhile; this is not, however, something we are able to do on our own. We are looking for people willing to dedicate time to help develop a complete design, which can then be used in an effort to secure funding, and to identify a lead or host institution for the primary facility. There is an opportunity here for scientists interested in astromaterials research to help determine what specific capabilities should be improved nationally. I encourage people to take advantage of this and to become involved with the planning for the facility and other laboratory upgrades. This concept is still in the initial development stages; all input will be of considerable value.

A webpage has been created to provide some background information and outline possible scenarios ( Please e-mail thoughts, ideas, and suggestions about this initiative to Keegan Boyd at If you would like to become involved with the planning process, please contact Keegan or me to discuss your interest and availability.


Hojatollah Vali
Chair, SEAC Facilities Subcommittee


Hojatollah Vali
Electron Microscopy Centre
McGill University
3640 University Street
Montreal, Quebec H3A 2B2
Tel: (514) 398-3025
Fax: (514) 398-5047

Keegan Boyd
Space Science Program
Canadian Space Agency
P.O. Box 7275
Ottawa, Ontario K1L 8E3
Tel: (613) 232-7738
Fax: (613) 991-9582

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