Canadian Space Regulations Discussed at Inaugural SpaceQ Intel Event

SpaceQ Intel, a new division of SpaceQ, held an inaugural roundtable in Ottawa Thursday (Sept. 12) to discuss the space regulatory environment in Canada.

Approximately 60 representatives from government and industry attended, using Chatham House Rule. This means, according to the rule, that “participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed”. This story is thus a collection of ideas discussed by presenters and attendees from the three morning presentations, with identifying information stripped.

Following the three morning presentations a series of moderated sessions took place until late in the afternoon on a variety of topics. This story does not cover those sessions.

It was noted at the start of the day that government representatives have restrictions on what they can say due to the federal election on Oct. 21; campaigning opened about 24 hours before the roundtable took place. Representatives spoke about the current government mandate and regulatory environment, but did not make projections about how that might change after the election is complete.

The global space economy represents approximately $360 billion of activity today, and could grow to $1 trillion in the near future. The group surveyed the regulatory environment affecting Canadian space industry, which includes international and domestic components. The international components include binding treaties such as the Outer Space Treaty (OST), which forms the basis of space law. Canada, like other OST signatories, must bear responsibility for any activities (and consequences such as damage) that occur by the Canadian government or by private Canadian entities.

Canadian space law does cross borders. One example: the United States Federal Communications Commission has raised a concern that the Canadian government does not have adequate provisions to guard against space debris from the country’s satellite communication operator, Telesat. Participants did not discuss Telesat’s or the Canadian government’s response to this FCC concern.

Domestic regulations for space activities include the Radiocommunication Act, the Broadcasting Act, the Telecommunications Act, the Remote Sensing Space Systems Act, and the Aeronautics Act. This last of the group licenses launch services and may be immature for today’s emerging launch market in Canada. The key regulators in Canada are Global Affairs Canada, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, Transport Canada and (often for security concerns) the Department of National Defence.

The Canadian regulatory environment might change as new space activities come on line. Some of the concerns being discussed include launch services, access to radio spectrum frequencies for industry, better harmonization of laws between countries to avoid “regulation shopping”, and improving responsiveness to make it easier to keep pace with quick changes in the space industry.

Canada’s new space strategy, just launched in March, includes a commitment to modernize the regulatory framework in this country. The examination will likely include various aspects of government concern, including economic growth, international agreements and security. With the United States (the major space power that Canada traditionally follows) and other countries changing their regulatory framework for space, Canada will likely look to its peers to see which of their ideas will also work in this country. The Canadian government is also working to have more conversations with its stakeholders as it evolves the regulations.

One example of regular review takes place with the Remote Sensing Space Systems Act, which must balance between security and industry needs with satellites such as the newly launched RADARSAT Constellation Mission. The act underwent mandated five-year reviews in 2012 and 2017, and the next one will be in 2022. The last review uncovered a number of recommendations from stakeholders, among them increased staffing and training, multinational forums to better align definitions and regulations, and more cooperation through industry with regular and early contact.

Satellite licensing (which falls under the Radiocommunication Act) has also undergone changes in recent years, to reflect rapid movement in industry. Licensing procedures were updated in 2014 and 2017, most recently reflecting the rise of commercial non-governmental actors in this sphere. Licensing may need to be revised again to reflect the ability of smaller entities to go to space using CubeSats and commercial-off-the-shelf equipment, as well as to examine the use of frequency bands. Spectrum management must be done regularly with all the other member states in space, since communications tend to bleed across borders.

Space launch falls under the Aeronautics Act and the Minister of Transport Canada must grant approval for rocket launches. The ministry is also responsible for airspace control, launch site safety, aircraft certification, and the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act (which includes rocket fuel).

There was also a discussion of proactive versus reactive legislation. While a reactive approach can take months or years to respond to a change in the industry, it does tend to follow the direction in which industry is going. A proactive approach may anticipate a change in industry and allow for a more efficient approach to regulation, but the risk is that industry might move in a different direction before the regulation is put in place.

About 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.

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