Can you spare a toonie? Ontario firm crowdfunding its all-Canadian mission to Mars

Andrew Fazekas
Prototype of the aptly-named Beaver Rover. (Thoth Technology)
Prototype of the aptly-named Beaver Rover. (Thoth Technology)

An Ontario company is hoping an ambitious crowdfunding campaign will take Canadian technology where its never been before: To the surface of Mars.

The Pembroke-based Thoth Technology has launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise $1.1 million to build all the hardware for its Northern Lights mission to our neighbouring planet, with the goal of blasting off in 2018.

In partnership with York University, the mission will be designed specifically to explore the atmosphere, surface and subsurface of the the Red Planet with a mini-lander and a micro-rover in the hopes of detecting water and any evidence of past or present life.

“On-board instruments will be able to identify the presence of any photosynthetic life hiding below the surface of rocks – much like we find in the Arctic regions of Earth – where it is protected from ultra-violet radiation,” said Caroline Roberts, President and CEO of Thoth Technology.

“We also plan to look for biogenic gases in the atmosphere and use ground-penetrating radar to determine whether there is horizontal stratification of the subsurface that might indicate the presence of a lake bed.”

Feedback from the space community has already been very helpful and is leaving the team extremely optimistic that their fundraising efforts will work. And there is precedent with the recent reboot of an old NASA spacecraft that had been in hibernation for 36 years after raising $160,000 through social media.

While the federal government’s Canadian Space Agency has shown interest, Roberts and her team are attempting to go ahead as a privately-funded mission in an effort to speed up the process.

“Government-run missions tend to be extremely expensive, labour intensive and risk averse. If we want to see the widespread exploration of Mars, many landers will be required, and we must dramatically reduce the cost,” Roberts explained.

“As Burt Rutan demonstrated for suborbital flight with Spaceship One, a small, dedicated team of professionals can achieve the technological breakthroughs needed to make large-scale Mars exploration a reality.”

The group has already spent 12 years and $500,000 designing and developing working prototypes of all the hardware, and now they feel that crowdfunding the mission may offer the best avenue for success as well as disrupting space exploration at large.

“It is quite a feat for a large space agency to land on another planet, but for a small company supported by the public, to do this will bring about a seismic change in our attitudes to space exploration,” Roberts said.

To help engage the public, Thoth Technology is offering a variety of perks for supporters, from voting for potential landing sites at the toonie level of support all the way to naming the lander for anyone willing to give $1 million.

Canada historically has had notable success in pushing the frontiers of space exploration, including the first communication satellites, the space shuttle’s infamous Canadarm and Chris Hadfield commanding the International Space Station.

“Canada is a nation built by pioneers who achieved feats that were regarded as impossible in the day,” Roberts said.

“Mars is today’s new frontier, and by exploring it, we push the boundaries of the possible and position ourselves to play a major part in this great exploration endeavour, and we’re inviting everyone to come on board.”