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July 2016

Self-replicating technology will enable a new era of space exploration

At a glance
The intern

Leonardo Villalobos from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México  

Hosted by

Dr. Alex Ellery at Carleton University’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

The research

Developing a robotic self-replicating machine for the moon

Leonardo Villalobos always knew he wanted to be an inventor. This summer, his passion for building things and taking them apart brought him to Ottawa for a Mitacs Globalink internship with Dr. Alex Ellery, Canada Research Chair in Space Robotics and Space Technology and Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Carleton University.

During his 12-week internship, Leonardo is helping develop a self-replicating, solar-powered, 3-D printing machine for the moon that can mine lunar bedrock — like dust, soil, and broken rocks — extract the raw materials, and input them into a series of 3-D printers. The printer is then able to construct its own parts that can be used in future space settlements or shipped back to earth. 

If this self-replicating machine can be developed, space exploration would be revolutionized because it could open up settlement possibilities previously considered too difficult or too expensive to undertake. Leonardo chose the project because of his fascination with space exploration and for the chance to work alongside Professor Ellery, a renowned expert in the field of space robotics.

Outside the lab, Leonardo has been busy taking in the sights and sounds of the nation’s capital, including celebrating Canada’s 149th birthday on Parliament Hill. He says the day’s festivities reminded him of what a multicultural and inclusive country Canada is.

“Being in Canada is like a glimpse into the future: it’s a place where you can find tolerance and respect for different cultures. It is proof that people from different cultures can live side by side. This is how the world should be.”

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of Ontario for their support of the  Globalink Research Internship programin this story. Across Canada, the Globalink program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan and Research Manitoba. 

In addition, Mitacs is pleased to work with international partners to support Globalink, including Universities Australia, the China Scholarship Council, Campus France, India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development, Mexico’s Secretariat of Public Education,Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, and the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and Tunisia’s Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research and Mission Universitaire de Tunisie en Amerique du Nord. 

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