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Towards a Canadian space policy

The CBC talked this week with Marc Garneau, the first Canadian in space, former president of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and newly-elected member of Parliament. Garneau, the “science and technology critic” for the minority Liberal party, was asked what a Canadian space policy should be, given that he advocated for one prior to being elected. While stating that he would have to coordinate his own personal views with those of his party, now that he was an elected official, he did offer some ideas of why Canada should have a space policy:

[A] space policy should essentially answer the fundamental question, which is what can space offer to us here in Canada? We have a whole bunch of government departments here in Ottawa, but there’s never been a coherent space policy put together. We were the third country in space, but it’s been more ad hoc than it should be, and a space policy can bring it all together. Ultimately, it will decide our priority. Is earth observation our first priority? Is developing our space manufacturing sector our first priority or is space science our first priority?

If the Canadian government does decide to pursue a space policy, one source of insight could be this open letter to Canada’s space community published earlier this month by several Canadian graduates of the International Space University. As they write:

In order for Canada to continue to be a leading space-faring nation, our government must adopt bold new measures and methods. This is not merely a matter of redistributing the space agency’s funding, or identifying new niche technologies. Instead, the agency must be prepared to create new goals that are clear, achievable, and visionary, re-imagine what space agencies are for and how they work, and embrace the unique opportunities that are available to our nation. The opportunity currently exists for a transformation that can dramatically increase the effectiveness of the CSA, provide new opportunities for Canadian industry, and allow our country to continue to play a truly pioneering role in space.

Among their recommendations for action are:

[T]he use of innovative program management and funding structures, including the introduction of prizes, adopting a new vision that clearly establishes the role of the CSA in enabling humanity’s future in space, creation of policies and programs that promote new entrepreneurial space ventures and increase the number of space firms in Canada, proactive and high-profile interaction with researchers and students at universities across the nation, and a coordinated effort to improve the efficiency of cross-border space business with our largest trading partner, the United States.

5 comments to Towards a Canadian space policy

  • Vladislaw

    They should fund their own X prize,it is a price range they could handle.

  • Al Fansome

    GARNEAU: [A] space policy should essentially answer the fundamental question, which is what can space offer to us here in Canada?

    That is a good question wherever you live.

    For America, the question should be “what can space offer to us here in America?”

    The most effective answer should be an elevator speech — a few sentences that clearly communicate the unequivocal benefit of investing taxpayer dollars in space.

    A laundry list of talking points — e.g., throwing every idea at the wall and hoping that something sticks — is not an elevator pitch. Nor is it effective.

    - Al

    “Politics is not rocket science, which is why rocket scientists do not understand politics”

  • The previous weekend, Garneau had been the keynote speaker at the Canadian Space Summit where he had provided much the same sort of insite to the 150 attendees and speakers representing industry, academia policy experts attempting to answer the question “What’s Next for Canada’s Space Industry?”

    Some of the other speakers, perhaps unrestricted by policy considerations had more specific suggestions on what they felt should be a component of Canadian space policy.

    CSCA gave a presentation on why Canada needs its own independent launch capability and how this could be justified on national security, scientific and especially business grounds (for example, it would cost about as much as an extra Canadian icebreaker and would contribute far more towards policing the high arctic).

    An aerospace executive gave a presentation on how space based industries are essentially the R&D arm of aerospace and why Canadian aerospace industries are foolish to ignore this subset.

    MDA gave a presentation on something called “flow through tax credits” how they are presently used in the Canadian mining industry to fund high risk, high cost ventures with a long lead time for ROI and how their use for aerospace R&D could expand and grow Canadian space based research and industries exponentially.

    An finally, the Rideau Group discussed the lack of a national space policy (which makes it difficult for industry to plan ahead) and listing the best politicians in Canada to talk with on aerospace R&D and industrial infrastructure issues (oddly enough, Marc Garneau wasn’t the only politician on the list).

    The conference link is at http://spacecommerce.ca/events/canadian-space-summit/ for anyone who’d like to take a look.

  • Paul Swift

    For Canada to develop its own launch capability beyond that offered by Bristol and the Black Brant sub orbital series, I believe it is a mistake to think that every facet of this endeavour be developed ab initio, or from scratch.

    There are a raft of sub contractors and suppliers worldwide, all of whom are trading partners with Canada, and all of whom have developed some aspect of launch capability, often at considerable expense and extensive trial and error. Why not select what parts of an orbital infrastructure we can design to our requirements, including launch vehicles, and not reinvent the wheel when it comes to components which would bankrupt the CSA funding as it is?

    Examples are the French rocket motor companies, the Russians, the Americans, Brits, Indians, and Japanese.

    Like strap-on boosters, treat the design process as constrained by the tools available. Even the giant NASA and its subcontractors use what is available when they can. If the Ares needs more lift, incorporate an additional lift component. If we need a more robust unit, contact another supplier. if its not available ‘off the shelf’, leave it out of the equation.

    Monetary considerations are at the bottom of this; technical feasiblity is assured to the extent it can be; only the operational and political issues need be resolved once it has been established that a Canadian launch capability is indeed what is needed to provide some longer term planning reference and a concrete foundation upon which the specific flight goals can be formulated.

    Whether we focus on Earth observation, scientific research, participation in a Moon or Mars initiative or more ambitious space endeavours, a launch vehicle design and build capability will give the Canadian people and the companies based here a substantial and real reason to maintain their interest and planning for an ongoin Canadian presence in space.

  • I also believe it is a mistake to think that every facet related to the construction and roll out of a Canadian based launch vehicle needs to be developed from scratch (Who ever said it had to be?).

    But I do believe that monetary considerations are an important part of the discussion (and you said yourself that you don’t want to add components that would “bankrupt the CSA funding”)

    Bringing money into the conversation allows us to move into broader policy discussions relating to the roll of science and technology as a source of national competitive advantage and the need to encourage greater public and private sector S&T investment. This is something that Canadian governments usually understand and respond too.

    Besides, have you read the article at http://blogs.orlandosentinel.com/news_space_thewritestuff/2008/12/nasa-has-become.html. Evidently the new US administration is re-assessing all facets of the ongoing US space program.

    Canada is likely going to do the same whenever our government gets its act together.

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