The precarious state of Canada’s space sector has compelled the recently populated Space Advisory Board (SAB) to issue an “urgent call to action” for a new national strategy and “long-term continuity” for its space program. The recommendation to the federal government is part of a suite of suggested actions that include taking a whole-of-government approach to space, making space a national strategic asset, boosting smaller programs considered more suited to the so-called New Space environment and a continuing role for the SAB to ensure coordination, stakeholder dialogue and metrics to evaluate implementation plans.
The SAB report stems from a series of roundtable discussions and webinars focused on the north and youth held last April and May. The consultations heard concerns that the government was ill prepared for the explosion in space activity, particularly from the private sector which has seen the arrival of new players and market niches.
Canada has lacked a long-term space plan (LTSP) since 1994, despite repeated calls and several assurances from successive governments that such a plan was in the works. A revolving door in the president’s office of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and a weak secretariat at Industry Canada (now Innovation, Science and Economic Development) has also hindered the development of space-related industries.
The situation has become so dire that a 2016 symposium at the 2016 Canadian Science Policy Conference heard that lack of direction and sufficient funding have placed exports of Canadian space technologies “under threat” with the sector in danger of “falling below critical mass”.
“Canada has lost ground in a world environment driven by rapidly changing technology and substantial increases in space investments by other nations,” states the report. “Participants supported the need for a space strategy, but stressed the urgent need for a reinvigorated and fully funded set of space activities and supporting policies to successfully implement the space strategy. Many felt that action is needed now before too much capacity is lost.”
For its part, the government responded through ISED minister Navdeep Bains who said he looked forward to working on “a blueprint to guide the next generation of space technologies and inspire the next generation of innovators” in conjunction with the SAB.
“It’s been a while since Canada has had a long-term, orchestrated vision for the sector. The US and Europe are moving on projects and Canada needs to participate and respond quickly,” says Lucy Stojak, SAB chair and director of HEC Montreal’s School on Management of Creativity in an Innovation Society.
Stojak says the collective call for a LTSP has been growing for several years as evidence mounts that a lack of coordinated action and funding is negatively impacting company revenue growth, talent retention and Canada’s ability to participate in international programs and projects.
“We’re losing international credibility as an international partner … The challenge is to develop and retain Canadian capacity,” says Stojak. “There are no good job opportunities so people are going to Europe or the US where they’re received with open arms. If we grow capacity, we can reverse that and attract talent from outside Canada.”
Over the past decade, the CSA, which once had a suite of programs geared towards technology adoption, outreach and education, has seen those initiatives cut, lowering its visibility and effectiveness. Without a strong presence and program suite, Stojak says the next generation of space researchers and entrepreneurs will struggle to establish meaningful, rewarding careers in Canada.
“The board got a real sense of people’s passion for space and the younger generation want opportunities to participate,” she says. “We need to maintain and improve Canada’s brand — tell the story and get it out, past and future.”
Examining the space sector’s financials and government programs were beyond the SAB’s mandate, but a recent report for the CSA by Euroconsult and a 2015 State of the Canadian Space Sector Report by the CSA illustrate a sector that’s growing slowly in terms of industry revenue and employment. The Euroconsult assessment was particularly blunt:
“Canada has lost its place in the group of the world’s leading space programs. Over the years, Canada’s investment in its space program has seen a downward trajectory with the Canadian Space Agency’s baseline budget now under $300 million, which is below to that of 1999. Despite some additional targeted allocations or acquisition programs, this lower funding level challenges the ability of the country to grow its technological capability in space … However, eroding R&D investments in the national space program challenges the position of Canadian companies in a tough, globally competitive market.” — Comprehensive Socio-Economic Impact Assessment for the Canadian Space Sector by Euroconsult for the Canadian Space Agency
During its consultations the SAB heard that Canada’s space sector is extremely important in key areas of the economy and society, ranging from communications satellites and associated data as well as groundbreaking technologies such as the Canadarm, remote sensing and space astronomy. But without a strategic vision of space as a national asset and a recognition of the disbursed nature of the industry and underpinning R&D, the sector is in danger of sliding into irrelevance as other nations forge ahead with fresh ideas and funding.
“A revitalized vision for Canada’s space program and a new space plan with funded programs to implement this vision are urgently needed,” states the SAB report, noting that the Harper government’s 2014 Space Policy Framework and its emphasis on the private sector was well received by many within the industry. It urged a better use of government procurement and fostering of international cooperation and partnerships to enhance science capacity and further the country’s international foreign policy objectives.
|SAB Recommended Actions|
|Space Advisory Board|
Marie Lucy Stojak (chair)Director of the HEC Montréal Summer School on Management
of Creativity in an Innovation Society
Dr James Drummond
Professor, Dalhousie University
William MacDonald (Mac) Evans
President, W. MacDonald Evans Consulting Inc.
President and CEO, GHGSat Inc.
Dr Douglas Hamilton
Clinical Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Adjunct
Professor of Electrical Engineering, University of Calgary
Executive Director, Canadian Space Commerce Association
Dr Gordon Osinski
Asssociate Professor, Western University, and
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada
Industrial Research Chair in Planetary Geology
President, Pley Consulting Inc
Chair of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada's Space Committee
Dr Afzal Suleman
Canada Research Chair in Computational and Experimental
Mechanics and Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering
and Director of the Centre for Aerospace Research, University of Victoria