The Canadian Space Agency Looks to Measure the Socioeconomic Impact of Space Weather

Artist illustration of events on the sun changing the conditions in Near-Earth space. Credit: NASA

The Canadian Space Agency today released a request for proposals (RFP) to study the socioeconomic impacts of space weather on Canada’s infrastructure.

A contract valued up to $300,000 will be awarded in October for the 15 month study.

Once the study is completed the Canadian Space Agency will develop a comprehensive Canadian Space Weather program.


The following is from the Statement of Work (PDF) attached to the RFP.

Canada’s Sovereignty and Security is an element of Canada Space Policy Framework. There is an increasing recognition world-wide that Space Weather Monitoring and Forecast is required to protect space assets, ground assets and ultimately human lives against risks originating in space. For example, the 59th session Report of the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (PDF) includes the following guideline on p. 63 of the report: 

17.7 States should undertake an assessment of the risk and socioeconomic impacts of adverse space weather effects on the technological systems in their respective countries. The results from such studies should be published and made available to all States and used to inform decision-making relating to the long-term sustainability of outer space activities, particularly with regard to mitigating the adverse impacts of space weather on operational space systems.

Space weather events can have a significant impact on Canada’s critical infrastructure essential to national security, economy and the health of Canadians including the electrical grid, the transportation networks and space systems (satellites and their ground facilities). Concerns have risen over the years as a result of the complexity of critical infrastructure and our dependency to technology. As a northern country, Canada’s infrastructure and activities are particularly vulnerable to space weather events, but the risks on our country have not been assessed and the possible impacts have not been quantified. While the Sun has generally behaved in the same way for as long as we have observed it, the increasing reliance on modern technology puts Canada more and more at risk as this technology can often be disrupted by space weather. The biggest storm on record was in 1859 and perturbed the telegraph network, the only “modern” communication technology at the time. The same event could have happened a 100 years before without anyone noticing. If that type of event was to happen nowadays, we could expect severe disturbances in our GNSS networks, power networks, satellite infrastructure that could take years to recover from.

In 2013, the United Kingdom generated an exhaustive study concluding that their infrastructure are at risks and underlining the importance to maintain current mitigation strategies and the development of new approaches.

The same year, the United States followed through with a more focused study which identified the risk of losing critical space weather observing and forecasting capabilities and the necessity to maintain their space-based and ground-based observing systems. In April 2015, they released a draft U.S. Space Weather Strategy identifying six strategic goals to enhance the integration of existing national efforts and add new capabilities. No such strategy has been established yet in Canada although some discussions and workshops were conducted between Federal Departments and DND in the context of the definition of their space surveillance program.

One of the objectives of the proposed study is to support the development of a Canadian space weather strategy that would ensure that all reasonable means are in place to deal with the security issues and that the investment made is commensurate with the importance of the subject. The first step towards these goals is therefore to assess the cost and impacts of space weather, to size the importance of the problem in Canada;

The requirements provided in this SOW are to establish that basis of knowledge for space weather to ensure Canada’s risk management strategy is appropriate. Note that DND capacity and vulnerabilities with respect to space weather are excluded from the scope of this contract for security reasons.

Study Objectives

There are three general objectives to the study;

  • Assess and quantify the socio-economic impact of various threats from space such that CSA and its partners can identify short-term and long term priorities.
  • Identify priority areas for future technology roadmaps.
  • Organize workshops where stakeholders (Canadian government, industry and Academia) gather and exchange on the findings.

And three specific objectives;

  • Assess current efforts to detect, warn and mitigate space weather events on Canada’s infrastructure.
  • Assess the current resilience of Canadian critical infrastructure to different levels of space weather disturbances.
  • Evaluate the cost of space weather as reliance on technology increases.

Furthermore, the study has the following 11 tasks.

TASK-SW-1: Literature review on previous space weather socioeconomic impact studies, extracting conclusions and consequences to Canada based on at least RD-5 to RD-12.

TASK-SW-2: Review/document the roles and responsibilities of the various Canadian organizations involved in space weather (as a service provider or client). Writing of a document on the space weather related activities in Canada.

TASK-SW-3: Develop a set of indicators to assess socioeconomic impacts of space weather onCanadian activities (government and commercial) and proposition of a methodology for measurement. The list of indicators and the methodology must be validated with CSA at a mid-term review.

TASK-SW-4: Prepare a questionnaire to be answered by Canadian Space Weather stakeholders, requesting identification of the respondent, evaluating their knowledge of space weather activities in Canada, space weather-related training needs, and requesting an estimated impact to their organization for different levels of space weather activity, either directly affecting their activities, or affecting critical infrastructure they rely on to be productive. More details are given in the DID-0100 section of Appendix B.

TASK-SW-5: A web version of the questionnaire will be produced, to be hosted on a server provided by the contractor, to facilitate the collect of information. The web-based questionnaire will include all the same questions as defined in TASK-SW-4, and will log the entries in a database, which can be exported as a Microsoft Excel-readable spreadsheet for analysis.

TASK-SW-6: Gather survey data. The contractor will deploy the web version of the questionnaire and make the site known to the target audience. The contractor will ensure the key stakeholders have responded and that the website is performing as required.

TASK-SW-7: Assess the impact and risk. Using existing documentation and data collection results, the contractor shall perform an impact analysis of different level of space weather activity, for different types of space weather events (i.e. geomagnetic storms, solar energetic particles, solar flares, perhaps radio bursts. These results must be quantified in constant dollars figure but estimates in some cases are acceptable. More details are given in DID-0200 section of Appendix B.

TASK-SW-8: Identify mitigation strategies/needs for a higher resilience to space weather events in Canada. The contractor must describe (and quantify where possible) the users that would benefit from the proposed activities and how much benefits in dollar figure where possible the new activities will provide. The contractor must also identify (based on examples from task 1 or 2 for instance) new Canadian users who could benefit from activities in the space weather program.

TASK-SW-9: Organize a consultation/workshop/event allowing stakeholders (Canadiangovernment, industry and Academia) to exchange on the conclusions from the survey, and recommend areas of improvement.

TASK-SW-10: Produce the Final Report detailing the entire survey, findings, the analysis of each task must be included and detailed. Conclude on the benefits of developing space weather activities in Canada and recommend future activities to be developed (way-forward).

TASK-SW-11: Assess and rank the biggest knowledge gaps regarding space weather, and recommend action from Industry, Academia or Government to address these gaps.

NOTE: To keep track of what’s happening with Space Weather follow SpaceRef’s Twitter account @SpaceWeather.

About Marc Boucher

Marc Boucher
Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceRef Canada Interactive Inc, CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef U.S., advisor and co-founder of the Canadian Space Commerce Association, and director and co-founder of MaxQ Accelerator Inc. Previously he was the founder of Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine which he sold.

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