Space: Alberta’s Next Frontier
You know it as space. But to Zac Trolley, P.Eng., a Calgarian with a very big dream, it is a new and vast resource frontier for Alberta.
Trolley sees a bright future for his home province and all of humanity beyond our planet. One that builds directly on the first century of success APEGA and its members have created.
Alberta should leverage its oil and gas knowledge and experience by joining forces with the space industry, creating partnerships to develop the loftiest of infrastructure, says Trolley.
He sees the provincial economy transitioning from extracting oil on Earth to extracting water from the moon and Mars. “Everything is impossible until the first time you do it,” Trolley says.
“People in Alberta are screaming for diversification. If we provide our extraction technology to the space industry, we will diversify while using our skillsets. We’ll be taking what we already know and moving it to a different market.
“We can utilize our supply chain in markets other than oil and gas,” says Trolley, who has a diploma in engineering technology from SAIT and a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Lakehead University.
“Alberta has a wealth of knowledge and experience in building megaprojects specifically to do with processing chemicals and water. This is a skillset the space industry lacks at scale. When we start exploring our moon and Mars with people, the limiting factor is going to be water. We need water to drink and to grow plants, and to act as radiation shielding in our habitats.
“The water that exists on the moon and Mars is locked away in ice, and the process for extracting that ice is extremely similar to the process we use in the oil sands to extract oil.”
Terrestrially speaking, Trolley moved to Calgary in his teens from Winnipeg, where he was born. For his day job, he’s an operations manager for Drakken, an engineering consulting firm based in Calgary and Dubai. But space, obviously, means a lot to him.
A lifelong Mars fan, he earned a certificate in space studies in 2014 from the International Space University, which is based in France but offers courses in various other locations. In 2018, he spent two weeks in a Mars simulation in Utah.
For the past several years he has been educating the public about space at every opportunity.
The space industry has technical requirements that Alberta can meet, he says. “It is going to be an industrial revolution that will dwarf anything we have experienced so far. We’re at the point now where in the next 10 to 15 years, the space industry is going to grow exponentially.
“What’s missing is the resource infrastructure. Alberta has the potential to be the first in the door: the first investors in a market that has almost literally has no limit.
“And we are experts in safety culture. That’s training that astronauts take years to develop, and we have entire populations that already have it, by virtue of working in oil and gas.
“As soon as we have a plan in Alberta, I will take it to every space contact that I know and show it to them. Alberta could be the Silicon Valley of space resources.”
But isn’t Mars a distant goal? Trolley is adamant that the time to act has arrived. “We need to get in the game now, because the infrastructure is being built. The gold rush has started.”
He may even go to Mars himself, someday. “If they’ll take me,” he says with a smile.