OTTAWA - Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Thursday that Canada will be a partner in a U.S. space agency NASA-led lunar project that will see humans return to the moon and set the stage for further exploration to Mars, said a a press release from the official website of the prime minister.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) plans to build a new Lunar Gateway, a small space station in the moon’s orbit around 2026. Trudeau said Canada will develop and contribute a smart robotic system - Canadarm3 - that will repair and maintain the gateway, adding the Canadian partnership in the Lunar Gateway will be part of a new Canadian space strategy.

“With the Lunar Gateway, Canada will play a major role in one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken,” Trudeau said.

He said Canada will invest 2.05 billion Canadian dollars (about 1.56 billion U.S. dollars) over 24 years, and the investment will create hundreds of well-paying jobs and contribute 100 million Canadian dollars (about 76 million US dollars) annually to Canada’s gross domestic product.

The gateway is a moon outpost that will provide living space for astronauts, a docking station for visiting spacecraft, and laboratories for research.

US ambassador to Canada Kelly Craft said in a statement that Trudeau’s announcement marks “the beginning of a new era of US-Canada space co-operation.”

Canada’s space sector employs 10,000 highly skilled workers and generated 2.3 billion Canadian dollars (some 1.75 billion US dollars) for Canada’s economy in 2017.