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Drill developed by Canadian firm for moon would kick-start space mining industry

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MONTREAL - A space drill developed by a firm based in Sudbury, Ont., could be boring for water on the moon in less than five years — if everything goes according to plan.

It would also signal the start of the space mining industry.

Deltion Innovations Ltd. has announced it's been awarded a contract by the Canadian Space Agency to advance the design of its "DESTIN" drill and then test it in a moon-like environment on Earth.

Deltion spokesman Dale Boucher says the tests are aimed at advancing technology so the space drill would be ready for a lunar prospector mission in 2018.

The mission's objective is to prospect for water ice near the south pole of the moon, extract samples and then analyze them.

"It's designed to go and prove that there is indeed water and other usable resources at that particular location," Boucher said Friday, noting that the ground temperature at the moon's south pole is colder than -200 C.

Water would help support life on the moon and volatiles such as hydrogen could be used in rocket propellants.

Testing of the drill is planned for late summer or early fall at NASA's Glen Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

Boucher added that the mission would kick-start space mining as an economic activity.

"The really neat thing about this project is that it's the first of many missions that are actually looking for usable resources — either on an asteroid or the moon. And Canada has an opportunity here to take the leader position."

The Canadian drill would be mounted on Artemis Jr., a lunar mining rover being developed by Ottawa-based Neptec Design.

Neptec made the laser-camera system that was used to inspect the exterior of the now retired U.S. space shuttles.

"Neptec is the prime contractor on the Artemis rover team," company spokesman Mike Kearns said in an interview. He noted that another key player is ODG (Ontario, Drive & Gear Ltd.), which designed the chassis and the drive train of the rover.

The Artemis Jr. rover is based on the design of the company's ARGO all-terrain amphibious vehicle, which is popular for hunting and fishing.

Boucher said his company has been working on the drill technology with NASA since 2005.

Canada was the U.S. space agency's first choice for the mission, but NASA won't be footing the bill.

"Canada has to pay the bill on this particular technology and hand it over to NASA for launch and integration into their system," Boucher said.

He warned that if Canada decides it doesn't want to participate, other countries are "very keen" on providing the drilling technologies and becoming a partner with the Americans.

He noted that some European and Asian countries, like South Korea and Japan, are extremely interested in negotiating with NASA.

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