Canada in Space: The Revitalization of Canada’s Space Economy

In 2012 and 2013, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield spent 166 days in space as the commander of the International Space Station.  He brought pathos and humor through his experience using social media posts and entertaining videos about life in space and inspired many to engage with the Canadian space economy.

Canada remains today one of the five ISS partners, along with the US, Russia, Europe, and Japan.  The ISS has had twenty years of continuous human presence in space. However, Canada’s place in space exploration actually began 50 years before Hadfield’s ISS experience.  Canada was the third country, behind the US and USSR, to enter what was then referred to as the Space Race, when in 1962 it launched a satellite named Alouette to study the ionosphere.

Ten years later, in 1972, Canada was the first country to operate a commercial domestic communications satellite from a geostationary orbit around the earth.  Six years later, a second satellite facilitated the establishment of a direct-to-home broadcasting service across all of Canada.

Canada’s greatest contributions to aerospace technology, though, are the iterations of “Canadarm” beginning in 1981.  It was the very first robotic technology to be used in space.  The first version was used by the US space shuttle orbiters to deploy and capture satellites as well as to deploy the Hubble space telescope.

The second version was used to build the ISS.  It remains in use today conducting inspections on the station, as well as assisting in docking space vehicles.

Canada’s Participation in The Lunar Gateway Program

Among the 2020-2021 priorities of the Canadian Space Agency (CCSA) is direct involvement with the Lunar Gateway Program.  The program, led by the United States, is the next multinational collaboration in space exploration, ambitious in its undertaking, that will place a space station in lunar orbit.

The Gateway will serve multiple purposes including a space laboratory; a testbed for new technologies; a rendezvous point for exploration on the surface of the moon; a mission control center for that exploration; and, eventually, a waystation on voyages to Mars.

When this space station is fully assembled it will include modules for scientific study as well as living quarters for up to four astronauts who will live and work there for up to three months at a time.

However, the space station will not be manned continuously, and this is where Canada’s most important contribution to the Lunar Gateway will play its part.  As an AI-based robotic system, “Canadarm 3” will care for the space station while it is unmanned.  It will even be able to operate science experiments on its own.

Canada’s Renewed Interest In Space Technology

The impetus for continued involvement in space exploration and advancement began when a University of British Columbia study in 2016 reported that Canada spent the least on its space programs than any other G-8 country in actual dollars.

At the time of the study, Canada was spending 16 million Canadian dollars in space exploration, with a base funding of about 250 million Canadian dollars in base funding for the CSA.  This was 50 million Canadian dollars less than was spent in 1999.

When reports at the same time suggested that for every 1 billion Canadian dollars spent in space innovation returned 1.2 billion Canadian dollars in economic activity, it was clear something needed to be done.

In 2019, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced an investment of 2 billion Canadian dollars for the CSA over the next 24 years.  And last June 2020, the CSA doubled the budgets of a number of its programs for a total investment of 52 million Canadian dollars over the next two years.  It is expected that about 100 projects led by SMEs (small – to – medium enterprises) and larger companies will be positively impacted by these investments.

In December of 2020, the CSA secured two Canadian astronaut flights as a part of the Lunar Gateway project.  The signing of the Gateway Treaty assured that one Canadian astronaut will be part of the first manned mission to the moon since 1972.  A second mission will take a Canadian astronaut to live and work on the Lunar Gateway Space Station orbiting the moon.

Contributions To Canada’s Space Economy

The Canadian Space Agency’s planned spending for the fiscal year that began on April 1, 2021, was set at 403.6 million Canadian dollars.  This represents a 2.2 increase over the previous fiscal year.

The global space budget is expected to triple over the next twenty years to $1.1 trillion.  Canada’s share of the global market today represents only 1.3%, and the government and its space-related agencies hope to improve that number.

This translates into about 21,000 jobs in the space sector, and 2.5 billion Canadian dollars to the economy.  An estimated 94% of those space sector jobs are with SMEs (small – to – medium enterprises).

The CSA has also committed to supporting scientists in Canadian universities who are studying the lunar surface.  Their work will be vital to the next lunar mission scheduled for 2024.  Originally planned for 2028, NASA was directed by the White House to speed up its plans by four years.

A Canadian rover will be a part of that mission with NASA.  CSA will be selecting two Canadian companies to begin developing concepts for that rover and the science instruments it will carry on the mission.

Mission Control Space Services has been funded to test cutting-edge technology in lunar orbit as well as on the lunar surface.  A mission is already planned for 2022.  Additionally, two Canadian companies, Canadensys Aerospace Corporation and NGC Aerospace Ltd., will also be demonstrating new technologies during a future lunar mission.

Since early last year (2020), the Canadian government has invested almost 37 million Canadian dollars to prepare for additional space exploration missions, including:

●  4.4 million Canadian dollars for nano- and micro-rovers and autonomous scientific instruments, all of which will be vital to planned lunar missions and the Lunar Gateway endeavour;

●  2.9 million Canadian dollars for more advanced lunar science instruments;

●  3.3 million Canadian dollars to test new lunar technology;

●  22.8 million Canadian dollars to McDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) for the technical plans for “Canadarm 3” previously mentioned;  and,

●  3.1 million Canadian dollars to support developing technologies in the lunar economy to insinuate themselves in the lunar mission supply chain within the next 2 years.

The Artemis Mission

The NASA mission Artemis III will be the first human landing on the moon in over 50 years.  Yet, it is only the first such planned mission to return to the lunar surface.  Later missions will seek to establish a long-term human presence on the moon.

Imagine the planning that will go into not only this first mission but all of the subsequent missions that will follow.  Once the undertaking begins, and that lunar base is established, there will be no stopping space exploration beyond the moon.

Trips into space are already civilian-sponsored, with the recent flights of Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson and Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos.  Millionaires from all over the planet are lining up with their funds to take civilian pleasure flights into space.

Public and Private Financing

The mix of both public and private financing will inspire countless startups large and small to seek their place in and their piece of the space economy.

Two flight tests will be required before NASA can return to the moon:  one unmanned flight scheduled for late 2021; and, a crewed flight scheduled for sometime in 2023.  These flights will demonstrate that the launch vehicle, the crew capsule, and the ground support systems possess the necessary capabilities needed for the Artemis III mission and beyond.

Additionally, whether Artemis III meets its 2024 White House mandate will depend on the completion of many inter-dependent projects, including the lander, new and upgraded spacesuits, and the Lunar Gateway.  It is possible that the Artemis III mission will proceed without the Lunar Gateway as well.

At the moment, CSA’s involvement in the Lunar Gateway project is primarily in the design, development, testing, and delivery of “Canadarm 3.”  However, Canada’s signing of the Lunar Gateway Treaty ensures the placement of Canadian astronauts will be a part of the first lunar landing mission as well as a mission member on the Lunar Gateway orbiter.

In 2018, the Canadian space sector generated 5.7 billion Canadian dollars in revenues and contributed 2.5 billion Canadian dollars to the Canadian economy.  The Canadian space sector is made up of over 200 organizations, including private companies, SMEs, universities, and research centers.

In April of this year, MDA, previously mentioned and the developer of “Canadarm” and “Canadarm 2,” received 400 million Canadian dollars in its initial public offering (IPO) on the Toronto Stock Exchange.  Additionally, it has already received funding of nearly 23 million Canadian dollars from the Canadian government for the design and development of “Canadarm 3” to be used on the Lunar Gateway space orbiter.

The NASA-Lunar Gateway is part of the government’s new space strategy.  The nearly 2 million Canadian dollar investment announced by Prime Minister Trudeau in 2019 was the opening gambit in that strategy.

A subsequent announcement from the government identified another 150 million Canadian dollars in support for LEAP – Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program.  This program is intended to help SMEs in Canada develop new technologies for use and testing in the Lunar Orbiter and on the lunar surface in fields such as AI, robotics, and health.

Canada’s National Needs and The Space Economy

These investments represent the understanding that space technologies are essential to Canada’s national needs.  They contribute to the national economy and strengthen the nation’s safety and security.

The Canadian space sector has a well-earned global reputation in Earth observation, space robotics ( such as “Canadarm” and “Canadarm 2”), and satellite communications. It is its success in producing space robotics devices that resulted in the Lunar Gateway Treaty and direct participation in the planned lunar missions.  The robotic arm technology continues to serve the current needs of the ISS, and will do so for the lunar Gateway orbiter when launched.

All of these efforts require manpower and support and generate jobs in Canada.  They inspire scientists, researchers, students, and young people to want a role in space exploration.  The economy benefits directly from this inspiration, and the needs of the various support industries will continue to grow.

As space exploration grows more daring and ambitious, those needs will grow as well.  As the CSA itself has promoted, space exploration has helped many other industries and aspects of life on earth improve.  These include:

●  The improvement of health care – experiments in space help us understand illnesses on earth;
●  The improvement of life on earth – with better weather forecasting, and worldwide communications;
●  The improvement of safety on earth – with better predictions of natural disasters;
●  The improvement of international relations – with its partners in the ISS; and,
●  Inspiring the youth of the world to study in fields related to space exploration like science, mathematics, and engineering.

The resumption of lunar missions, the establishment of a lunar orbiter, its use as a stepping stone to further space exploration to Mars and beyond, all speak to the vastness both of space and of possibilities.  The industries needed to support these endeavors will only grow in size and number.

And as they do, so will the number of jobs grow. The economic impact of that growth will be as vast as space itself.  As that partial list above suggests, it is not simply Canada’s space economy that lifts the country; its success lifts so many other industries that benefit from the technological advancements space exploration brings about.

Source Materials Used to Gather Information for This Piece:

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Canada in Space: The Revitalization of Canada’s Space Economy

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