Industry lauds long-awaited space strategy, but details on timelines and funding still needed

Debbie Lawes
March 27, 2019

By Debbie Lawes

Twenty years of lobbying, expert reports and political promises have finally produced a national strategy for space. Released March 6, A New Space Strategy for Canada brings with it more than $2 billion in new funding for a sector that has struggled with job losses, brain drain, stagnant investment and tarnished credibility as an international partner. While relieved to finally have a strategy, the space industry stresses that more work needs to be done to determine when many future initiatives will begin, and how they will be funded.

Canada’s last long-term space strategy was released in 1994. A key underpinning of the new strategy is its recognition of space as a strategic national asset – a first for Canada and a key recommendation of the Aerospace Review Report (2012), the Aerospace Innovation White Paper (2015) and the Space Advisory Board (SAB) (2017).

The new space strategy also responds to a longstanding call for a pan-government approach that would see greater coordination among federal departments when it comes to funding and utilizing space technologies to meet national needs such as security, agriculture and broadband internet. Space services are now used by most departments, including environment, public safety, fisheries, agriculture and defence.

Anchoring the strategy is $1.9 billion over 24 years for an advanced deep-space robotic system, part of the U.S.-led Lunar Gateway, a small space station that will orbit the moon. The centrepiece of Canada’s contribution will be the third generation of the Canadarm, providing some long-sought sustainability to the country’s robotics industry. Canada is the first country to officially commit to Gateway after the U.S.

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“The Gateway is a flagship program that will help Canada to continue to play a key role in international exploration of space. It sends a signal not only to the industry and stakeholders in Canada but internationally that Canada is in this for the long-term and wants to continue to be a key player,” says Dr. Lucy Stojak, SAB chair and director of the School on Management of Creativity and Innovation at HEC Montréal.

An additional $150 million will be provided over five years for the Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program (LEAP), another key recommendation of several advisory reports. LEAP will enable companies — primarily SMEs — and universities to develop and demonstrate new technologies to be tested in lunar orbit and on the moon’s surface, including artificial intelligence, robotics, health and telecommunications.

[rs_quote credit="Gilles Leclerc" source="Director General, Space Exploration - Canadian Space Agency"]We want Canadian companies to be part of this new era of commercial services where space agencies give more work and more responsibilities to the private sector so they can offer services not only to space agencies at the national level but globally and also to other customers. [/rs_quote]

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) says potential suppliers will be invited to submit Requests for Information in the coming weeks.

“It will cover all technology readiness levels, from concepts to actually flying technologies and operating science payloads on and around the moon,” says Gilles Leclerc, director general of space exploration at CSA, which will manage LEAP under its Space Technology Development Program. The STDP has invested more than $64 million since 2015 to grow Canada’s space sector.

The strategy and new investments will support Canadian companies as they compete in the new space economy, adds Leclerc. “We want Canadian companies to be part of this new era of commercial services where space agencies give more work and more responsibilities to the private sector so they can offer services not only to space agencies at the national level but globally and also to other customers. That’s the philosophy NASA has undertaken and we want to be part of that.”

The new investments are expected to improve Canada’s global ranking when it comes to spending on space. In 1992 Canada was the 8th ranked nation in terms of percentage of GDP spending in space. By 2018, Canada had slipped to 18th.

Canada's new space strategy: Highlights
Lunar Gateway - $1.9 billion
Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program - $150 million over five years
A national contest to recruit “junior astronauts"
Regulatory reform
A whole-of-government strategy approach to space
Recognizing space as a national asset
Expanding Canada’s relationship with the European Space Agency

Fleshing out the strategy with timelines and funding

Funding for Lunar Gateway and LEAP alleviates much uncertainty for space companies, but it’s unclear how other initiatives in the strategy such as earth observation, data analytics and regulatory reforms will be funded and when. The Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) is asking for “the timely release of a fully costed and funded plan.”

“Part of what we will be working with government on is when will that be and how much do they think they will spend,” says AIAC president Jim Quick. “We’re certainly going to try to work with the government to see if we can find where we can attach some timelines for that and then attach some money to that.”

Stojak agrees, describing the space strategy as a high-level document that needs clear timelines and sustained funding – an issue “we repeatedly heard” during the SAB’s roundtable consultations.

Who will oversee the strategy’s implementation?

Leclerc says Canada already has “very solid governance for space in government” with the Deputy Minister’s Governance Committee on Space (DMGCS) — co-chaired by the DM of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) and the president of the CSA. There is also the Assistant Deputy Ministers' Space Program Integration Board (ADMSPIB) and the Director Generals' Space Program Integration Board (DGSPIB).

“There needs to be some internal governance structure that oversees the whole space strategy to make sure we’re holding people accountable for what’s in the strategy,” says Quick, adding the DMGCS’s role could be expanded to look at the larger space file.

Stojak expects the 11-member SAB, which reports to ISED Minister Navdeep Bains, will also continue to play a role in the oversight and implementation of the strategy, in coordination with both the DMGCS and the CSA. “We need to synchronize and orchestrate how best each of these bodies could fulfil moving the strategy going forward,” she says.

Stojak also supports greater coordination between departments but concedes this won’t be easy. “Who will lead this effort? How will it be orchestrated? How will the different actors get their input in a coordinated fashion to sustain this strategy… the governance, the interaction between departments and potentially the DM space council and the SAB and the CSA – these are all areas that require more fleshing out.”

Modernizing regulations

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The strategy commits to reviewing Canada’s regulatory framework for space to make it easier for companies to invest and compete. Quick says his members feel they are overly regulated and that there is unnecessary “over-oversight” of CSA projects.

The top priority for Stojak’s group is to see the Remote Sensing Space Systems Act updated and modernized to make it more responsive to global realities affecting the development and exploitation of space technology both in space and terrestrially.

Canada also has an opportunity to leverage its expertise in mining by following the lead of countries like the U.S. and Luxembourg which have passed legislation paving the way for commercial space mining. “Canada is a world leader in mining,” adds Stojak. “Shouldn’t the mining and space sectors be talking to each other?”

Space mining is addressed in a new pan-Canadian plan developed by federal, provincial and territorial governments. Released March 20, the Canadian Minerals and Metals Plan said taking an early lead in space mining “can help attract capital and talent, and facilitate the success of private companies in this new market.”


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