Canadian Space Summit Offers a Glimpse at Canada’s Future in Space

Incoming Canadian Space Society Ryan Anderson interviews former Canadian Space Agency astronaut Dr. Dave Williams. Credit: SpaceQ.

While there are several space conferences of note each year in Canada, there is only one annual event at present that covers a wide range of issues in the civil, commercial and military sectors. That conference is the Canadian Space Summit.

Held for the 5th time in the past 10 years in Ottawa, the conference attracted a little over 200 people from across Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere.

The conference would seem best suited to be held annually in Ottawa as this allows the organizers to attract more government, policy and military attendees.

The Canadian Space Society, which organizes the conference, has held the conference in other locales such as Vancouver, Winnipeg, Calgary, London and Kingston in the past 10 years, but rarely does it get the attendance it does when held in Ottawa. This year it was co-organized with the Satellite Canada Innovation Network (SatCan).

While attendance is modest at the moment, and has been higher in the past, it should grow based on the audience it is trying to reach, along with a growing market. Keeping the conference in Ottawa, and located at a venue that will serve the conference for many years, and around the same dates, could only help cement the Summit as the go to national event each year.

It wouldn’t surprise me if this conference reached 300-500 people within two to three years if managed well. That would mean establishing best practices as other larger successful conferences do by locking in a venue early, getting commitment from key sponsors early, opening the call for paper earlier, getting a few keynotes lined up earlier, and importantly, marketing the event early with a dedicated website.

The best annual conferences have a baseline plan ready to go the moment the current event ends. That includes making sure that everyone knows that we’ll see you next year on these dates at this locale, plan now to attend.

Canadian Space Society update

Gary McQueen opened the conference by providing a short update on the society.

He mentioned that a new two year strategic plan had been developed and was being executed. That plan is available here. He also stated that a Memorandum of Understanding had been signed with the U.S. based National Space Society. That agreement covers a wide range of areas of cooperation including cross-promotion, article sharing, participation in each others events, among other initiatives.

A new student bursary program was announced that would award $500 annual to a deserving student in an accredited STEM program annually.

McQueen also reminded the audience that the organization is a registered charity and that anyone could donate funds and receive a tax receipt in return.

McQueen also mentioned that Montreal would host the Summit next year, however with a new executive in place and no firm agreement signed with local organizers, it would appear that announcement was premature.

Government space

One clear advantage of holding the conference in Ottawa is the possibility that will you get additional people from government you might not otherwise get. That was the case this year.

There were representatives from at least 10 government departments which illustrates that space is not just the domain of the Canadian Space Agency within ISED, but as many know, space is important to many government departments, hence the effort for a Whole of Government approach. As well, it also illustrates that holding the event in Ottawa will make it easier for the federal government to participate.

The government departments that participated that SpaceQ is aware of were; Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), Global Affairs Canada (GAC), Transport Canada (TC), Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), National Defence (DND), Ingenium, Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), National Research Council Canada (NRC) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

A separate article will deal with some new information on the Whole of Government policy approach that most would not be familiar with.

From the Canadian Space Agency perspective there wasn’t much in the way of news though a couple of interesting things were mentioned.

Luc Brûlé, vice president at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) took the opportunity in his keynote talk to announce that the CSA would be holding an InvestmentSpace 2019 meeting in February in Toronto. That event would be held in collaboration with the Creative Destruction Lab and the Business Development Bank of Canada. Brûlé also mentioned that a new RADARSAT Constellation Mission data policy is coming sooner rather than later with new meetings to discuss the policy being announced in the coming weeks. That policy though won’t be what industry had hoped for, which is access to some real-time data.

Brûlé also reinforced what SpaceQ had heard and reported from last weeks National Forum on Earth Observation from Space, that Canada was seriously looking at participating in Europe’s large Copernicus Earth Observation program.

Brigadier-General Kevin Whale from DND provided an update on activities in the military sphere but there was little in the way in new information from his last public update in May at the CASI ASTRO 19 conference. He did remark however that “Space needs Canada’s voice” stressing the importance of Canada’s contributions to the global space sector.

The DRDC also provided an update and that will be dealt with in a separate article.

Commercial space

While the mood with respect to a government strategy is sombre, there was some enthusiasm among attendees.

That enthusiasm is fuelled by new opportunities in the commercial space sector that would appear to have the potential to drive markets to new heights. Constellations of satellites in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), a return to the moon, the possibility of mining on asteroids and other planetary bodies, are all seemingly within reach now.

Another theme that was discussed in a keynote by Chris Dodd of Airbus, and for which SpaceQ has been hearing leading up to the Summit, is the desire to increase focus on markets other than the U.S., including a renewed push for closer cooperation with Europe.

Dodd wasn’t shy in his remarks when talking about Airbus. He said over 3,000 Canadians are directly employed in Canada and that there were 17,000 indirect jobs in Canada because of the work Airbus does here. He also stated that there were 665+ suppliers to Airbus in Canada and that they had offices in nine locations. But importantly he said “we’re here to stay.” The signal being, we’re open for business and we don’t think the public and marketplace know enough of what we’re doing and could do. In an effort to get its message across in Canada and globally the company has started a large marketing campaigning*.

Dodd also announced that in addition to the Industry Day it held at the Canadian Space Agency earlier this fall, it would hold its own industry supplier meeting in Ottawa in the new year with details to follow.

Dodd also stated that “Airbus is all about building bridges, not walls.” He isn’t the only one to express this sentiment. Europe in particular is attractive to Canada as we’re the only non-European cooperating state. Canada also recently signed a free trade agreement with the European Union.

SpaceQ is also aware of a prime contractor in Europe that is looking specifically to Canada for suppliers in areas related to LEO constellations among other areas, in part because of the current political climate in the US.

During the second half of the Airbus keynote Chris Dodd ceded his time to his colleagues Pierre-Alexis Joumel, a Project Manager at Airbus and co-founder of the Moon Race. That program, which we’ve discussed previously and an Airbus supported initiative, would see companies competing in increasingly difficult challenges with the aim of securing hardware on a moon mission 5 years from now and would include launch costs covered. Joumel announced that a Global Partners meeting will be held in March and that current partner countries included China, Japan, EU, US, South Korea and Mexico. There’s no word yet if any Canadian companies will be participating.

New public awareness effort

Led by the Center for Planetary Science and Exploration at Western University a new initiative was launched at the Summit. That new initiative is called Space Matters and brings together more than half a dozen regional and national organizations including the Canadian Association of Science Centres, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and others.

According to Space Matters they will “use a connected-learning approach to foster dynamic collaborations among schools, out-of-school time programs, STEM expert institutions (e.g., museums, science centres, universities), the private sector, community-based organizations, youth and families, using Space as the connecting topic. Space exploration, perhaps like no other discipline, can ignite interest and motivate youth to appreciate science and technology in their daily lives and to pursue education and careers in the sciences, engineering and high-tech sectors.”

We have an upcoming story that goes into more detail on this new initiative.

Another awareness campaign was present at the Summit. The Don’t Let Go Canada Coalition had small booth but a big background for people to get photographed in front of including organizer Minh On of the Canadian Space Society.

* As a disclaimer, SpaceQ is one of the many publications that Airbus has bought advertising with.

About Marc Boucher

Marc Boucher
Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactice Inc. Boucher has 18 years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 25 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.