Canadian Space Agency adopts two-pronged approach to funding future endeavours

Guest Contributor
January 28, 2004

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is continuing to push for additional funding even as it examines ways to launch new initiatives within its current budget allocation. The cash-strapped federal agency hopes to mount what it terms a “modest mission” to Mars early in the next decade and will have to find other areas to cut if it can’t convince the federal government to fund the new initiative.

“We’ll have to defer projects or get more funding. I’m going to keep going to government for more money … At this point we have not made a new submission (for new funding) as the government will want to address our specific set of priorities. A more normal budget process will begin in the fall of 2004,” says CSA president Dr Marc Garneau. “The government has a lot of priorities and when it comes to the innovation agenda, S&T and productivity of the space industry we are very strong. We’re in the middle of those things that the government wants to achieve.”

The recent decision by US president George Bush to launch a manned flight to Mars has rekindled debate over whether Canada should participate. Garneau says that for Canada to be involved, the federal government would need to spend billions of dollars over the next 20 years. Canada could contribute its expertise in robotics, drilling and mining, leading to significant commercial spin-off activity.


Garneau says that while a future Mars mission is important to the future of Canada’s scientific and commercial involvement in space, the bulk of the CSA’s time and money will be devoted to serving its key constituents — government departments, the scientific community and the space industry sector.

“There are bigger priorities such as security and sovereignty, climate change and global warming and natural resources. We are a tool that the government can use in these areas,” he says. “Right now we can do things serially. It’s a question of whether the government thinks space should have a bigger role, leave it as it is or provide small incremental increases.”

The decision to develop a flexible strategic plan follows the CSA’s failure to secure a one-time budget increase in the last federal Budget. The CSA under Mac Evans fought successfully for stable A-base funding, but the change has proven to be a double-edged sword. While the security of constant funding removes the unpredictability of financial support, any new initiatives must either obtain new funds or reallocate existing resources.

“There’s always a need to prioritize and achieve a balance,” says Garneau. “We asked the government for funding for a 2009 mission to Mars but we didn’t get it. We can do it within our current envelope with a modest mission early in the next decade but what gets taken off the table?”


Garneau says that in spite of its limited budget, the CSA is having a major impact in Canada economically, scientifically and socially. Of the latter, he points to the CSA participation in the $155-million National Satellite Initiative, announced last October. Targeting approximately 400 largely rural and remote Aboriginal communities, the project is a joint venture between the CSA, Infrastructure Canada and Industry Canada.

The national priority project envelope of the Canada Strategic Infrastructure Fund is providing $85 million to purchase satellite capacity and transponder space while Industry Canada is assigning $20 million worth of public benefit satellite capacity that it negotiated with Telesat Canada when it authorized the Anik F3 satellite. For its part, the CSA is providing a $50-million satellite capacity credit that will become available in mid 2004.

Garneau contends that the ability of the CSA to provide the capacity is due to its “pioneering working” in public-private partnerships, notably with Telesat Canada.

“This was only possible because the CSA decided to build a K-band transponder allowing multimedia capability, so we struck a deal with Telesat,” he says. “It’s for the Anik S2. They carry it and we build and pay for it and we get $60 million of K-band business. It’s a creative partnership and it launches in late April.”


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