Securing Canada’s Place in Space

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Canada is a leader in space robotics, satellite communications, Earth observation and space science

Not many people realize that Canada was the third country in space in 1962, after the (then) U.S.S.R. and USA superpowers. This accomplishment and the many that followed were not an accident, but the result of bold vision, deliberate choices and strategic investments of Governments of the day. Because when it comes to space, Governments must lead.

Today, thanks to their vision and choices, Canada is an acknowledged world leader in space robotics, satellite communications, Earth observation and space science, with a diverse space sector that includes some of Canada’s most innovative companies, universities, and research institutions and employs our brightest minds. In 2016, that space sector achieved $5.5 billion in revenue, employed 10,000 Canadians (41% highly skilled HQP), supported close to 22,000 Canadian jobs and contributed $2.3 billion to the GDP.

Space touches the lives of Canadians 20-30 times a day, from weather predictions, to using an ATM, to checking a map on a smartphone, to downloading movies, to ground and air traffic management. It is going to be even more pervasive in the future, in the fast-approaching tomorrow of autonomous cars, smart cities, advanced autonomous AI-enabled robotics.

How are things looking for the Canada of tomorrow? It depends.

Unlike other countries, that have been increasing their investments in space, Canada has faced declining investment for many years, and has had no long-term space plan for decades. Whereas in 1992, we were 4th in spending as a share of GDP among G7 countries, by 2016 we were last. Looking across all spacefaring countries, we’ve fallen from 8th to 18th.

The years of declining investments may soon end. The current Government has made investing in innovation a priority; has appointed a Canadian Space Advisory Board; and is developing a long-term space strategy. It cannot come too soon because there are pressing decisions that need to be made. Possibly the most pressing is whether Canada will participate, or not, in the international space community’s next big exploration project.

The United States, Europe, Japan and Russia are currently planning a return to the Moon in the 2020s. NASA will build a small space station that orbits the Moon, as a base for lunar exploration and as a Gateway to explore deeper space. The international community expects Canada to participate in this mission and to provide advanced AI and robotics as we have in the past. It is a strategic and fairly modest commitment that secures our place as a full partner in the mission. It opens the door for our astronauts to participate in future space missions and, potentially, to further contributions like lunar surface rovers and space medicine technologies.

Given the Gateway’s distance from Earth – the International Space Station is 400kms away, the Gateway is 400,000 – a third generation Canadarm would incorporate significantly more autonomous decision-making capabilities using artificial intelligence (AI) and state-of-the-art robotics and software. Canada’s best and brightest minds, including many here at MDA, will need to be mobilized to design and build technology solutions that will push the limits of science, technology, engineering and math, contributing to the advancement of Canada’s knowledge-based economy over the next two decades in areas so key to our competitiveness.

But so far, no commitment has been made.

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Positioning Canada for the new space economy – the stakes are high

Including a commitment to participate in the Gateway as part of the upcoming space strategy would signal to the world that Canada plans to claim its place in the new space economy.

It is essential that we should be there. The current space-related global market opportunity is commonly estimated to be $380B, which analysts forecast will grow to be a multi-trillion-dollar market in coming decades.

The future of some of even the most traditional of industries will be in space. Look at mining, in which Canada is a leader here on Earth. Just one asteroid, the size of a football field, is estimated to have between $25 billion and $50 billion worth of rare and precious metals. NASA estimates that the total value of the 18,000 asteroids that are currently in the vicinity of Earth could be up to $700 quintillion. This is not science fiction. Space mining missions will start as early as the 2020s.

Time for bold vision and wise choices

Tomorrow is almost here. And with the final frontier opening up, countries and companies are jostling to capture their place in the new space economy. Ambitious governments are setting their course and staking their claims. Luxembourg has set its sights on being the leading country in space mining; the U.K. aims to capture 10 percent of the global space market by 2030.

We believe that the current Government of Canada has the wisdom and vision to invest today for the continued prosperity of the Canada of tomorrow.

It is time for a long-term space plan for Canada that establishes the requisite funding to maintain and enhance our existing capabilities in space robotics, satellite communications, Earth observation, and space science, and to cultivate new areas of leadership. It is time to make a commitment to participate in the Gateway project. It is time to secure Canada’s place in space.

We are asking Canadians to speak out on social media (#DontLetGoCanada) and reach out to elected officials to let them know that you support a funded, long-term space plan for Canada.

How can you help?

  • Share this with your colleagues, members or anyone that you know who would be interested in helping to secure Canada’s place in space.
  • Go to www.DontLetGoCanada.ca to find out more.
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