An Urgent Call to Action: The Government Releases Findings from the Space Advisory Board Consultations

Today the government released the findings of the recently completed Space Advisory Board consultations on Canada’s upcoming new Space Strategy.  The Space Advisory Board report put forward two recommendations  based on six key themes.

At first glance you might be surprised that there are only two recommendations. However, once you read through them you’ll see that both of the recommendations contain a fair amount of detail which you could say are sub-recommendations.

Recommendations

Recommendation 1: Designate space as a national strategic asset

This recommendation echoes the thoughts not only of industry stakeholders, but also of the Senate report Military underfunded: The walk must match the talk which was released earlier this year. That report was commissioned in 2016 as part of the Defence Policy Review and it concludes that Canada’s space assets need to be declared critical to the nations’ infrastructure and protected.

Basically, by requesting the government designate space as a national strategic asset the Space Advisory Board is setting the stage for its sub-recommendations. However, it also puts some pressure on the government, as taking the step of declaring space as a national strategic asset is not lightly done. And what does that mean?

Here’s what the Board said.

“From all that the Space Advisory Board has heard during the roundtable discussions, it is clear that re-establishing space as a national strategic asset is essential to creating a clear vision for space that will focus the country (governments, industry, academia, and civil society) on the importance of space to Canada’s economic and social growth. By making space a national strategic asset the Government will be mandating a whole of government approach and signalling its intention to ensure that Canada will continue to have the capacity to develop and use space to meet national needs. As a result, efforts will be focused on ensuring the development of the necessary highly qualified personnel, new technologies and applications, and growth of the country’s space industry.”

Specifically the SAB recommends:

Ensure that Canada has the capacity to develop and use space technologies and applications essential to meet national needs (such as sovereignty, security, environmental and economic prosperity and wellness and quality of life in remote Canadian communities) by:

  • Adopting a whole-of-government approach to space activities that would require all government departments to work together in pursuit of the strategy.
  • Implementing a balanced space program with activities in all areas of importance to Canada (e.g. earth observation, communications, science, exploration).
  • Conducting preliminary studies and related R&D into new applications of space technology to meet national needs.

Ensure that Canada has the specialized human resources required by industry and government for the national space program by:

  • Setting aside at least 10% of the CSA’s budget for scientific and research activities in Canadian universities.
  • Pursuing international cooperative space science activities to ensure world-class science and research in Canadian educational institutions.
  • Providing flight opportunities for scientific instrumentation and education.
  • Establishing a comprehensive outreach and educational program to involve Canadians of all ages in the Canadian space program and encourage youth to pursue impactful careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Grow the Canadian space industry by:

  • Managing a space program that includes an appropriate mix of large long-duration flagship programs aimed at meeting national needs, medium scale exploratory and demonstration programs to advance technology and science, and small scale programs suitable for developing new space industries and capabilities in academia.
  • Undertaking an aggressive technology development program to develop and demonstrate new technologies required to meet national needs, pursue international cooperation, or capture export opportunities.
  • Revising on a regular basis the regulatory regime affecting space activities (e.g. the Remote Sensing Space Systems Act, export control, spectrum rights, etc.) to support commercialization and export of space technologies and services.
  • Expanding international cooperation and partnerships that enhance access to new technology, foreign investment and international cooperation relationships.
  • Procuring to the extent possible space services from Canadian industry (instead of buying and operating space systems) to meet government needs.
  • Using procurement policies and procedures that support industry development, encourage entrepreneurship, and reward excellence.
  • Revising industry support policies to remove impediments to private sector investment in innovation (e.g. intellectual property policies, stacking policies, etc.).

Recommendation 2: Future role of the Space Advisory Board

When the Space Advisory Board was created the focus was on an immediate consultation on Canada’s upcoming new space strategy. However, it was not clear what role they would play after the consultation. Now it seems they’ve provided the government a recommendation that outlines how they should be used going forward.

“The members of the Space Advisory Board were impressed with the level of engagement and knowledge expressed by all participants in the consultation process. Almost without exception, participants were convinced of the value of space activities to Canada and overwhelmingly in favour of continuing and expanding such activities. Participants could point to specific advantages flowing from these activities that went far beyond the space sector and penetrated into many areas of Canada’s economic and social fabric. There was recognition of challenges and areas where we could improve significantly and participants talked passionately about their visions for the future of the Canadian space sector. The task of harnessing these ideas into a few strategic directions has been difficult due to the large number of creative suggestions provided.”

It is recommended that the Board be asked to provide independent advice on the implementation of the Space Strategy by:

  • Continuing discussions with ISED and the CSA on implementation plans
  • Continuing a dialogue with the community of stakeholders to follow-up and expand on the creative ideas made by participants to ensure they are considered during the implementation of the strategy
  • Discussing, as appropriate, the space activities of other government departments
  • Developing metrics for evaluation of the implementation plans
  • Evaluating implementation plans against agreed metrics
  • Advising the Minister on our findings

The Issues Captured in Six Themes

The following are the issues the board has placed in six themes;

Designating space as a National Strategic Asset – Recognize space as a strategic sector essential for our sovereignty, security, and economic growth that is worth sustaining and growing.

  • Key proposal: Adopt a whole-of-government approach that makes the space strategy applicable to all government departments and agencies.

Strengthen world-class Canadian capabilities – Adopt policies, use procurement and seek international cooperation to support the growth of an internationally competitive space industry and scientific capacity.

  • Key proposals: 
    • Utilize all applicable procurement and policy tools as essential elements of a space industry development strategy.
    • Foster international cooperation and partnerships that support the development and growth of our domestic capacity, enhances Canadian science capacity and furthers the country’s international foreign policy objectives.

Adopting new policies and regulations to capitalize on technological advances  – Adopt policies, and review existing regulations to make them responsive to the realities of the New Space environment.

  • Key proposals:
    • Recognize the New Space environment as critical to future growth and adopt policies (regulatory, procurement, legal, financial) that support and encourage New Space entrepreneurship.
    • Procure space services (as opposed to owning and operating space systems) whenever possible in order to promote private sector investment.

Continuity of policies and sustainable funding – Pursue a balanced space program in program sizes, phasing and category.

  • Key proposal: Pursue a balanced space program that includes all areas where Canada has world-class expertise, contains activities in all phases (studies, program definition, design, build and operate), and has an appropriate mix of flagship major programs and smaller, shorter duration missions.

Outreach and educational activities to inspire and prepare Canadians – Undertake extensive outreach and public education to engage Canadians of all ages in the space program.

  • Key proposal: Establish a comprehensive outreach and educational program to involve Canadians of all ages in the Canadian space program and to encourage youth to pursue careers in science and technology.

An urgent call to action – Reverse the decline in Canada’s space capability before it’s too late.

  • Key proposal: Develop, in time for the next federal budget, a new space strategy and follow-on space plan that provides the policies, programs and funding essential for the re-vitalization of Canada’s space capacity.

The Urgent Call to Action

While many of the issues and the recommendations have been made before it is the call to action issue which seems most pressing when talking to stakeholders.

The report states it is urgent that action be taken to “reverse the decline in Canada’s space capability before it’s too late.” The report also stated that stakeholders “stressed the urgency in establishing the policies, programs and funding necessary to revitalise the program. Several participants suggested that this current effort is the ‘last chance’ to achieve this goal.”

This was echoed forcefully by Don Osborne of MDA in this weeks SpaceQ podcast in which he talked about MDA’s Canadian future and the space strategy.

Minister Bains issued the following quote in response to the release of the report, “it’s clear from the public consultations hosted by the Space Advisory Board that Canadians value the contributions made by our country’s space sector. The technologies that are designed for today’s space sector can also be used to improve the everyday lives of Canadians. These technologies generate new business opportunities that create well-paying middle-class jobs for Canadians. Our government shares the commitment of Canadians who want to see our country’s space sector build on its world-class reputation for innovation. I look forward to working with the Space Advisory Board on a blueprint that will guide the development of the next generation of space technologies and inspire the next generation of innovators.”

The ball is squarely in the Minister Bains court now. Later this summer, or early this fall, stakeholders will find out what the government intends to do.

Download the Report

Consultations on Canada's Future in Space: What We Heard

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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