History of the Space Economy in Canada

The global space market is expected to reach over $1 trillion by 2040. Statistics show that Canada holds a 1.3 percent share in that market. The country’s space sector adds $2.5 billion to the economy as well as 21,000 jobs.


1957 – 1958 – Canada and the U.S. cooperate to create the Churchill Research Range located in northern Manitoba. From here, over 3,500 suborbital sounding rockets were launched. It was decommissioned in 1989.

1958 –  Canada becomes a founding member of the Committee on Space Research formed by the International Council of Scientific Unions.

1959 – NASA agrees to build the Alouette 1 satellite to study the ionosphere. It was a Canadian proposal.

1960 – The first Canadian hardware gets into space after the U.S. launches navigation satellite Transit 2A with a cosmic noise receiver.

1961 – A communication antenna of the Freedom 7 capsule was built by Canadian Havilland Aircraft. It was known as a storable tubular extendible mechanism or STEM.

1962 – Alouette 1 is launched on Sept. 28 at 10:30 p.m. from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Also this year, the Relay-1 communication satellite was launched. The transponder was built at the RCA plant in Montreal, making it the first Canadian-built hardware in a communication satellite.

1963 – The first weather photo transmitted in Canada was sent from the U.S. satellite TIROS 8.

1964 –  Canada becomes one of the founding members of the International Satellite Telecommunication Organization.

1965 –Intelsat 1 is launched. It’s the first commercial communication satellite used for transatlantic communication by the Canadian Overseas Telecommunications Corporation.

Also this year, the Alouette 2 is launched on Nov. 29  from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

1969 – The Eagle with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin lands on the moon. The landing gear of the ship was built in Quebec by Heroux Aerospace.

Also this year, Telesat Canada was formed. The organization’s goal is to develop communication satellites for Canada.

1971 – The Canada Centre for Remote Sensing is created.

1972 – Canada’s first communication satellite, Anik A1 is launched. It was built by Hughes Aircraft in California. This move makes Canada the first to have a domestic communications satellite in geostationary orbit.

1973 – Anik A2 is launched, bringing better radio, TV, and phone service to Canadians in the North.

1974 – Canada awarded the NASA contract to design, develop and build the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System for the Space Shuttle. The result is the Canadarm, a 15-metre robotic arm.

1980 –  Canada agrees to participate in the development and use of Olympus, a large hybrid communications satellite planned by the European Space Agency. With an 11 percent stake in the project, Canada will provide solar panels, amplifiers, hyperfrequency components, support assembly, integration and testing.

1981 – Canadarm is launched into space on the Space Shuttle Columbia.

1982 – NASA makes an offer to have a Canadian go into space on one of their missions. It marks the beginning of the Canadian astronaut program.

1983 –  In December, the first Canadian astronauts are selected. They are:

1984 – In October, Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau becomes the first Canadian in space aboard the Challenger. This is the ninth time that the Canadarm is on a space shuttle flight.

1985 –  A Canadian-Brazilian partnership results in Ariane 3, a rocket that carries Brazils’ first communication satellite. This also marks the first time Spar Aerospace, a Canadian company, works with an international client.

This year also sees Canada and the U.S. start planning work on the space station project and a mobile communications satellite (MSAT). The government commits $195 million for the Canadian Space Plan.

1986 –  Canada’s ultra-violet auroral imager is taken into space aboard Sweden’s Viking spacecraft.

This is also the year Canada becomes a full partner in the International Space Station program.

1987 – The Maser sounding rocket launched from Sweden has the Canadian Gravity Experiment On Detector Elements or GEODE aboard. The goal of the experiment is to produce cadmium/mercury telluride crystals in microgravity.

1988 – Spar Aerospace Limited is named as the prime industrial contractor for the Space Station project. Canada commits $1.19 billion a year for the next 12 years.

1989 – The Canadian Space Agency official created, and Larkin Kerwin is named the organization’s first president.

This year is also when the European Space Agency’s communications satellite Olympus is launched.

1990 –  Canada infuses $15 million for the U.S. FUSE space telescope project. They also commit to providing optical subsystems.

As well this year, the High Flux Telescope, a Canadian scientific instrument, becomes the first to launch beyond Earth’s orbit on the European Space Agency’s Ulysses space probe.

1990-91  – Spar Aerospace (now MDA) is awarded a contract by Telesat Mobile in Ottawa and American Mobile Satellite Corporation in Washington. Along with Hughes Aircraft in California, they will build two MSAT mobile communication satellites. In another deal, Canada’s government hires MDA to create an advanced design of the space station’s mobile servicing system. The contract is worth $195 million.

1991 – Canada’s WINDII (Wind Imaging Interferometer) is sent into space on the Space Shuttle Discovery. One of the major investors in the instrument was Prof. Gordon Shepherd of York University in Toronto.

1992 – Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar becomes the second Canadian in space when she goes up with the Discovery. Bondar was the first Canadian woman to go into space. CSA creates a campaign to search for other Canadian astronauts. Over 5,000 apply, and they select four:

Garneau and Hadfield are chosen to start training in Houston for their first mission.

1993 – The space agency headquarters in Longueuil, Quebec, is completed. It is where astronaut training facilities, RADARSAT Mission Control Room, MOC (MSS Operation Centre, and labs for life sciences, robotics, space systems, optics, and computer technology are located.

1994 – Canada commits $500 million to the International Space Station Program. Provisions are made for an Advanced Communications research program, development of space technologies, space science research in Canada, and a commitment to include Canadian astronauts on space shuttle missions.

1995 – Chris Hadfield is the first Canadian on the space station Mir on mission STS-74. Dave Williams is selected to start training in Houston for his mission.

Also this year, Canada’s first Earth-observation satellite, the RADARSAT, is launched.

1996 – Canada Space Agency headquarters officially named the John H. Chapman Space Centre, after the scientist that many believe is the father of the Canadian space program.

Marc Garneau is the first Canadian to fly in space twice when he goes on mission STS-77.  On mission STA-78, Robert Thirsk spends 17 days in space, a record for Canadian astronauts. Steven G. MacLean and Julie Payette start their mission training in Houston.

1997 – Spar Aerospace/MDA finishes integration of the Space Station Remote Manipulator System, which is a 17-metre long robotic arm. It was launched in 2001.

Then Prime Minister Jean Chretien commits $207 million in the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator. This element will be part of the International Space Station.

Bjarni Tryggvason becomes another Canadian in space on STS-85.

1998 – CSA hires MDA in BC to build RADARSAT-2, which is expected to be a lighter, less expensive and more advanced satellite than the RADARSAT-1. They award the contract to Spar Aerospace in Quebec to design and develop the synthetic aperture radar at the cost of $90 million.

1999 – Canada’s Canadarm2 is sent to the NASA facility in Florida. It was a redesign that featured increased size and durability, able to handle larger payloads, and innovative mobility.

Also this year, the FUSE (Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer) was sent up. It had two Fine Error Sensor instruments provided by CSA aboard.

The Terra satellite is launched carrying several instrument packages, including Canada’s Measurement of the Ozon Pollution in the Troposphere (MOPITT) sensor.

2001 – Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield heads to the International Space Station on STS-100 with the Canadarm2. He is the first Canadian to spacewalk.

2002 – CSA introduces Canada’s first space telescope. The microsatellite is dubbed MOST microvariability and oscillations of stars.

2003 – Canada’s space telescope is successfully launched on June 30 from Northern Russia.

2005 – CSA agrees to provide a fine guidance sensor and tunable filter for NASA’s latest space telescope.

2007 –  Canada provides meteorological instruments aboard the Phoenix Mars lander. The equipment will track the weather and climate on Mars.

The RADARSAT-2 is launched from Russia. The radar satellite will improve marine surveillance, ice monitoring, disaster management, environmental monitoring, resource management and mapping.

2008 – The final component of the Mobile Servicing System is launched on the space shuttle Endeavour. Developed by MDA in Ontario, the Mobile Serving System has three robots capable of working together or alone. These are:

  • Canadarm2 -17 metre robotic arm

  • Dextre – a two-armed robotic helper that is operated by flight controllers based on Earth. It is used to change batteries, replace failed components, set up science experiments, and launch micro and nanosatellites.

  • Mobile base – work platform and storage facility moves on rails that travel across the space station’s man trust.

The CSA also launches a campaign to recruit new Canadian astronauts for future ISS missions.

In May, NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander arrives on Mars with Canada’s meteorological station aboard that includes a 2.35-metre robotic arm that will dig for clues about water on the planet. The information gathered will lead to a model of Mars’ climate and possible future weather processes. This is the first time that Canadian technology has landed on the surface of another planet. The mission wraps up in November with the discovery of water ice in the soil and snow in the atmosphere.

CSA awards a $40 million contract to develop the RADARSAT Constellation Mission. It marks the expansion of the RADARSAT program. Part of the work will result in a three-satellite configuration to uncover information on Canada’s land and oceans.

2009 – CSA announces two new astronauts, Jeremy Hansen and David Saint-Jacques. They become the first to join the Canadian corp since 1992. That same year, Bob Thirsk heads to the ISS for a record-breaking six months.

2012 – Canadian government announces two new space projects:

MicroFlow – tests hormones and cells in biological samples like blood. The information can help cultivate an understanding of what medical care astronauts may need.

Lab on a CD – a speedy automated medical diagnostic testing unit. It can perform genetic testing in minutes.

Also this year, Canada provides a fine guidance sensor to the James Webb Space Telescope. This tool will help keep the telescope on target to find objects in the universe.

NASA’s Mars rover, the Curiosity, contains the Canadian instrument Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer to inspect the chemistry of rocks and soil on the planet.

2013 – Canada’s space telescope, the Near Earth Object Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat) is launched. Also known as the Sentinel in the Sky, it is a microsatellite expected to detect and track space objects, debris and satellites. It orbits about 800 km above Earth.

Canadian Chris Hadfield becomes the first Canadian to take on Commander duties in the ISS.

In May, the Canadarm returns home to be retired. Throughout its career, it travelled 624 million km and worked 944 days in space. It was put on display at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum.

2015 – CSA contributes Canadian-built OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter to the NASA OSIRIS-REx mission. It will study an asteroid that may impact the Earth in the 2100s (Bennu). It will also return a sample of the asteroid.

2017– Two more Canadian astronauts join the ranks:

2019 – Canada commits to a NASA partnership on the Lunar Gateway. For the project, the Canadarm3 will use software to complete tasks on the moon without human assistance.

2021 – the Government of Canada puts $3 million of technology initiatives into the CSA to expand the country’s lunar exploration activities.



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History of the Space Economy in Canada

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