Rationale and Framework for a Canadian National Space Policy

I have been prompted to write this Paper with the publication in August of the excellent Space Advisory Board’s (SAB) report titled Consultations on Canada’s Future in Space: What We Heard. This Paper is also the result of analyzing national space policies for many years.

It is clear from the succinct SAB Report that we are at a critical juncture in the state of the Canadian Space Program. One the SAB’s Key Proposals was:

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 revitalization of Canada’s space capacity.

I had hoped that the SAB mandate, as given by the Minister for Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED), would be to inform a National Space Policy versus a new Space Strategy. While a new Space Strategy is welcome, especially if it comes with new funds, the future of the Canadian Space Program from a policy perspective is less clear. There will be some who think I am nitpicking but my 22 years in Washington taught me the difference between a National Policy and a Strategy.

National Space Policy Background

Over the last fifty years, the use of space by Canada has evolved from being a tool for scientific research to being part of the critical infrastructure of the country. Space has become essential to meet an increasingly broad range of public policy objectives including national security, territorial sovereignty, Canadian Forces operations in Canada and abroad, environmental monitoring, safety and security, Canada’s international obligations and knowledge, technology and innovation.

Canada’s space program has been guided by a series on Long Term Space Plans championed by the Canadian Space Agency. However, responsibility for the effective use of space is diffused in Canada. Multiple Government departments are at the same time users, enablers, policy makers or regulators for various aspects of the use of space. Overall coordination rests with the Canadian Space Agency which under the Canadian Space Agency Act has the mandate to assist the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED) to coordinate the space policies and programs of the Government of Canada.

Canada is one of the few spacefaring nations that does not currently have a National Space Policy. I do not consider the 2014 Space Policy Framework (see below) to be a National Space Policy. Our one and only space policy was issued in 1974, by the then Ministry of State for Science and Technology (MOSST). Since then the Canadian Space Program has been governed by three Long Term Space Plans (1986, 1994 and 2003). Sadly LTSP 4 (2008), which was exactly what we needed, and the result of extensive consultations (full disclosure — I contributed to LTSPs 1994, 2003 and 2008), was “Dead on Arrival” with the Harper government.

The November 2012 release of the Aerospace and Space Review (aka Emerson Review) of its report Reaching Higher Canada’s Interests and Future in Space, was a good start. It made substantive, pragmatic, and by most accounts, welcome recommendations with regard to the management and future directions of the Canadian Space Program. This was followed by the Space Policy Framework which listed five Core Principles that will be used to guide the government’s management of the Canadian Space Program, and these are:

  • Canadian Interests First (national sovereignty, security and prosperity);
  • Positioning the Private Sector at the Forefront of Space Activities (supporting and using the domestic space industry to bring cutting-edge technologies to market that meet national interests);
  • Progress Through Partnerships (both national and international);
  • Excellence in Key Capabilities (support and advance proven Canadian competencies while keeping a close watch for new technological niches);
  • Inspiring Canadians (the government recognizes that space is a highly visible means of motivating young Canadians to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math).

In this Paper I provide the rationale for a National Space Policy and offer some thoughts (a framework) for how the Canadian Government may approach the development of such a policy.

Podcast Episode 12 – Graham Gibbs on the Space Advisory Board Report


A country’s national space policy usually provides policy directions for the conduct of the government’s civil, military and national security space programs. It may also cover relations with the commercial and research space sectors, as well as international partners. In many cases a national space policy clarifies:

  • The roles and responsibilities of the government departments with a stake in the nation’s space sector including their inter-relationships;
  • The government’s position on the conduct of its space program e.g., peaceful use of outer space;
  • The government’s position on space activities as they relate to national security, sovereignty, foreign policy, international cooperation and similar matters;
  • The government’s civil, military and intelligence space priorities; and
  • Policy directions for government departments, support of and relationships with, the commercial, research and education sectors.

In some cases, e.g., the United States, a national space policy includes a classified section.

While a national space policy addresses a government’s space priorities, it does not necessarily include all possible topics, as some space policy matters are handled through lower tier policy directives.

A national space policy is not a space strategy, nor a long term space plan. The United States is one of the few countries that consistently produces comprehensive national space policies to reflect a particular administration’s position. In my paper (footnote 1) I analyzed the space policies of the USA, EU, Germany, France, Italy, UK, Russia, China, Japan, Russia, Australia, Republic of Korea, and South Africa.

These particular space-faring and emerging space-faring nations were selected because their policies and programs are deemed to represent a comprehensive cross-section of the world’s government space sector.

In my analysis I noted certain “common policy themes” — not in priority order:

  • Knowledge and understanding
  • Discovery
  • Economic growth – job creation and new markets
  • National prestige
  • Security and defence
  • International relations
  • Education and workforce development
  • Leadership
  • Applications e.g., Earth Observations for sustainable development

Despite a list of drivers commonly found in most national space policies, an in-depth analysis highlights three major trends:

  • Space activities to meet the needs of citizens,
  • The industrial space sector as an engine for technical innovation and competitiveness,
  • Dual use (military and civil) applications.



Most national space policies are led by a non-partisan department, usually one that reports directly to the Prime Minister or President (in the case of the USA it is the White House Office of Scientific and Technology Policy). Thus for Canada the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) would seem to be the logical choice. However, since the PMO does not have, as I understand, experts in the space file they would need to engage semi-independent space experts to manage the consultation process.

In the paragraphs below I provide a framework to developing a Canadian National Space Policy. However, certain caveats need to be understood:

My proposed framework is NOT in priority order nor necessarily an accurate reflection of the eventual categories thus:

  • I provide a comprehensive list of ALL the topics that “might” be included in a National Space Policy;
  • It is important that all these, and others, be at least discussed during the interdepartmental process with a consensus agreement on what should and should not be included;
  • Many of the entries will be only one to two sentences in length.

Framework for a National Space Policy

1.0 Space Policy Goals and Objectives

The fundamental goals of Canada’s National Space Policy are to:

The final set of the “fundamental goals of Canada’s National Space Policy” will depend on the consensus reached during the interdepartmental consultation process and the government’s policy objectives. A starting point could be the 2014 Space Policy Framework and the 2017 Space Advisory Board Report.

I do not attempt to make suggestions, or provide examples, here since the “fundamental goals” would represent government policy. However there would not normally be more than four to five goals.

The objectives of Canada’s space activities are in support of (some examples):

  • Economic Benefits to Canadians
  • Societal Benefits to Canadians
  • Knowledge Based Society
  • National Security
  • Sovereignty
  • Foreign Policy Objectives
  • Contributions to international cooperative space activities
  • Canada’s Place In The World
  • Space as part of Canada’s critical infrastructure
  • Other TBD

2.0 General Space Policies

In order to achieve the goals and objectives of this Policy, the Canadian Government will:

Examples only for illustrative purposes,

  • Support the development and retention of a highly skilled space professional workforce,
  • Invest in research and development,
  • Provide for a strong and sustainable commercial space sector,
  • Increase and strengthen interdepartmental cooperation
  • Strengthen International Cooperation

3.0 Roles and Responsibilities

This section should clarify the respective roles and responsibilities of all government departments that have a stake, either as an enabler or user, in the Canadian Space program.

  • Overall lead CSA (ref Act …)
  • CSA
  • ISED
  • EC
  • CRC
  • NRCan/CCRS
  • DND (D Space D)
  • CSIS
  • INAC (I include Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada since I believe we need to substantially improve communication, tele-medicine and tele-education services in the North)
  • Role of Council of the Canadian Academies and others
  • Others TBD e.g. NRCC

4.0 Policy Priorities for Each Sector

Civil Space

  • Human Space Flight
  • Solar System Human and Robotic Exploration
  • Astronaut Program
  • Microgravity Research
  • Astrobiology
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Earth Observation
  • Astronomy
  • Heliophysics/Space Weather
  • Satellite Communications
  • Technology R&D

National Security Space

  • DND/D-Space-D
  • Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance
  • Remote Sensing
  • Space Situational Awareness
  • Near Earth Asteroids
  • Maritime Surveillance
  • Arctic
  • Combat-Fighter Support
  • Peace-Keeper Support

Commercial Space

  • Industry Relations
  • Government policies in nurturing:
    • Core competency development e.g. funding to avoid or encourage competition in Canadian industry,
    • Small and Medium Sized Industries

Research and Development

  • Government
  • Industry
  • Academia/Research Institutes

Research and Analysis

  • Governmentt role with R&A Institutes and Industry

5.0 Federal Government and Provincial Relations

6.0 International Cooperation

  • Cooperation with the United States
    • Civil
    • Military
  • Cooperation with Europe (ESA, EU, EC)
    • Civil
    • Military
  • Cooperation with Other Nations

7.0 Multinational Initiatives

  • UN Committee On the Peaceful Use of Outer Space (UN-COPUOS)
  • Group on Earth Observations (GEO)
  • Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS)
  • International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG)

8.0 Policy Positions Applicable to all Sectors

  • Policy Implementation
  • Peaceful Uses of Outer Space
  • Space Transportation (re-affirm previous policy decision)
  • Position, Navigation and Timing
  • National Data Policy
  • Federated Ground Station Network
  • Search and Rescue (COSPAS-SARSAT)
  • Ice Monitoring (Canadian Ice Service/North American Ice Service)
  • Space Weather
  • Space Situational Awareness
  • Orbital Debris
  • Protection of Space-based assets and their ground infrastructure
  • Research to Operations (Government position on Operational Space Missions versus Research missions)
  • Education and Outreach
  • Space Nuclear Power
  • Radio Frequency Spectrum and Orbit Management and Interference Protection
  • Export Policies
  • Remote Sensing Satellite Licensing
  • Space Missions Security Classification

Footnote 1: This Paper is based on Gibbs’ Article (53pp) titled “An Analysis of the Space Policies of the Major Space Faring Nations and Selected Emerging Space Faring Nations” published in the McGill 2012 Annals of Air and Space Law, Paper presented at the 64th International Astronautical Congress.

Updated on Monday, September 11, 2017 at 7:50 a.m. E.T.:  Graham provided  an update to section 1.0 Space Policy Goals and Objectives, replacing the following;

This will section will be completed as a Canadian policy is put into effect. The reader, if they so choose, can select from the 2014 Space Policy Framework and the 2017 Space Advisory Board Report.

with the following for clarification;

The final set of the “fundamental goals of Canada’s National Space Policy” will depend on the consensus reached during the interdepartmental consultation process and the government’s policy objectives. A starting point could be the 2014 Space Policy Framework and the 2017 Space Advisory Board Report.

I do not attempt to make suggestions, or provide examples, here since the “fundamental goals” would represent government policy. However there would not normally be more than four to five goals.

June 2017

Graham began his career as a Marconi Company (UK) electronics engineering apprentice. He joined the company’s Avionics Division upon completion of the apprenticeship, having graduated from Mid Essex College (now the University of East Anglia) in Electrical and Electronics Engineering.

In 1972 Graham joined the Canadian Marconi Company (CMC) in Montreal. While at CMC Graham championed the building of a worldwide civil market for CMC avionics and in particular it’s long range navigation system that used signals from the then U.S. worldwide network of the Omega System Very Low Frequency antennas.

Graham joined the Canadian Space Agency in 1988, for a posting in Washington DC. From 1988 to 1993 Graham was Head of the Canadian Space Agency office at the NASA Space Station Freedom Program Office in Reston Virginia. In 1994 he established the CSA Washington Office a position he held until becoming Canada’s Counsellor for Space Affairs-Canadian Space Agency at the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC in November 2003.

While representing the Canadian Space Program in Washington DC Graham was involved in several multinational initiatives. These included: (a) the International Space Station Program, including the negotiations to bring Russia into the partnership (he was Head of the Agency-level negotiating team and Deputy-Head of the government level delegation); (b) a member of the Canadian Delegation (led by Environment Canada) for the creation of the international Group on Earth Observations; (c) a core member of the CSA Delegation in the development by fourteen space agencies of The Global Exploration Strategy and the resulting International Space Exploration Coordination Group.

During his 22-years in Washington DC successfully nurtured stronger and broader cooperation between the CSA and NASA, NOAA and USGS. He was a contributor to Canada’s Long Term Space Plans with an emphasis on international cooperation. He monitored US (and non-US) space policies, evolving regulations etc. and wrote numerous Reports and Papers with an emphasis on their “implications for Canada”. He also studied US and others National Space Policies and drafted an unsolicited and unpublished “Framework for a Canadian National Space Policy”. In 2012 Graham’s 53 page Paper “An Analysis of the Space Policies of the Major Space Faring Nations and Selected Emerging Space Faring Nations” was published in the McGill University Annals of Air and Space Law.

Graham returned to Canada in August 2010 to take up a pre-retirement position as the Senior Policy Advisor in the CSA’s Ottawa Vice President and Government Liaison Office.

Graham is the recipient of several awards, including the NASA Exceptional Public Service Medal and the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics International Cooperation Award.

[amazon_link asins=’B01M72B9DL’ template=’ProductAd’ store=’spacan00-20′ marketplace=’CA’ link_id=’6d2b53b1-9406-11e7-bc6a-b98c0bc83f17′] Graham retired from the Canadian Space Agency in January 2012. His “retirement transition project” was to write the book Five Ages of Canada: A HISTORY From Our First Peoples to Confederation, published by Friesen Press, Victoria, BC.

Contributed by: Graham Gibbs retired from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in January 2012, having served, for twenty-two years, as the CSA representative in Washington DC and as Canada’s Counsellor for (US) Space Affairs at the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC. Upon returning to Canada in August 2010, until his retirement Graham was a Senior Policy Advisor in the CSA Vice President and Government Liaison Office in Ottawa. He can be reached at [email protected]

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