Canada Faces Decision Point in European Space Agency Program Participation

The Canadian Space Agency Tweeted this image on June 13th announcing that Canada and ESA have signed a new 10 year cooperation agreement. Credit: Canadian Space Agency.

LAVAL, QUE. – The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) needs the space community to act soon as the agency decides how to participate in future European programs. Companies, educational institutions and other stakeholders have until June 28 to respond to a CSA survey sent out to the community, said Eric Martin, a program lead in technology development manager at the CSA.

Martin made the pitch at the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI) ASTRO conference on Tuesday (June 19). Canada takes part in a select number of European Space Agency (ESA) programs through a cooperation agreement, but that access is also dependent on Canadian funding commitments, he said. “If we don’t get any interest for an ESA program, the decision will be easy – we won’t put any money in that,” he said.

The European opportunities are wide-ranging and touch on six thematic areas: Earth observation, telecommunication and integrated applications, navigation, human spaceflight and exploration, space situational awareness, and technology development. ESA will make its next funding decisions at a ministerial-level meeting called Space19+ on Nov. 27 and 28; such opportunities only happen once every three to four years, Martin pointed out. To get on board, Canada will make its decisions by mid-October.

On the International Space Station, for example, Canada has the chance to participate in analogue testing along with European partners. (Canada’s spaceflight opportunities on the ISS are already covered under our own agreement with NASA.) There are also opportunities to participate in lunar robotic missions – important precursors for NASA’s forthcoming human Artemis project – as well as the ExoMars program, which is aiming to do a sample return mission from Mars in the 2020’s or so.

Earth observation is another busy area for Europe, with 15 satellites in operation, 25 satellites in development and 12 in preparation, said the CSA’s Marie-Josee Bourassa at the conference. “Everybody wants it,” she said of the funding opportunities, which includes such matters as the Copernicus program – an Earth observation set with 225,000 registered users, six operational services and free-and-open data that flows to users after 25 terabytes is generated daily by satellites.

Bourassa mentioned numerous reasons for the CSA to invest in ESA’s Earth observations. One of the themes she touched on include enabling and supporting Earth science, which can also mean supporting observations and actions on climate change (something that the Trudeau government has said will be a theme of their campaign in the forthcoming federal election.)

There’s a market opportunity in terms of the data services, she pointed out, as well as potential technology applications in artificial intelligence, big data, blockchain, drones and small satellites, among other things. Beyond that, Earth observations allow applications that can answer citizen concerns over equitable access to water, addressing environmental threats, and addressing social and economic resilience, she said.

ESA’s ARTES (Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems) program, said the CSA’s Tony Pellerin, is about to undergo a transformation to support the rapid changes in the telecommunications satellite sector; satellites in this sector (as well as many others) are rapidly moving to lower-cost and smaller vehicles with the ongoing improvement of electronics. And the demand for telecommunications access continues to rise, especially in traditionally underserved areas in Africa and Asia. Some of ARTES’ programs in general will include a 5G satellite called Mercury and an optical communication satellite called ScyLight, he said.

You can learn more about Space19+ at http://blogs.esa.int/space19plus/.

Prior to the ASTRO 2019 conference, the CSA tweeted on June 13 that Canada and ESA have signed a new 10 year cooperation agreement.

Canadian Space Summit 2019

About Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell
Is SpaceQ's Associate Editor as well as a business and science reporter, researcher and consultant. She recently received her Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota and is communications Instructor instructor at Algonquin College.