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Second Liberal Budget Should Define Their Commitment to Canada's Space Program

Credit: SpaceRef.

The Liberal government has been in power for a year and it is now becoming clear the way forward for the space sector is through the yet to be presented Innovation Agenda the government is currently seeking input on.

If the buzzword innovation hasn’t been defined, redefined and used enough for you, well get ready, you’re going to get a steady diet of it starting next spring when the budget is released. And according to Canadian Space Agency President Sylvain Laporte at the recent International Astronautical Congress, “space is a major contributor to innovation and to science, so we are looking at playing a very big part of those new efforts.”

An opportunity for stakeholders to discuss innovation related to science and space is the upcoming Canadian Science Policy Conference in Ottawa on November 8-10 which will include for the first time, the Canadian Space Policy Symposium*. Innovation is a key theme of the conference and the space policy symposium.

As the second year of the Liberal government starts, the upcoming budget should define what commitment the government will make to the space sector as it plans short and long term funding for projects that fit into their new Innovation Agenda.

A lot can happen between now and when the budget is presented. This includes an economic update to be presented by Finance Minister Morneau on November 1st.

While we don’t know yet the details of the commitments the government will include in the new Innovation Agenda, we do have some idea as to what Canadian stakeholders would like to see funded.

The Standing Committee on Finance is currently holding its 2017 pre-budget consultations after soliciting written input from stakeholders this past summer. The Committee received 427 written briefs and has already heard from 124 witnesses with hearings ongoing.

This year more briefs from organizations with an interest in space were submitted than recent pre-budget consultations. I will highlight recommendations from a couple of industry groups, several youth groups, an advocacy group, universities and the only company to submit a brief.

1. The Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC)

The AIAC submitted three briefs for their Technology and Innovation Committee (TICA), Space Committee and Civil Aviation. For their space brief they submitted the following recommendations;

  • Increase Funding for Space Technology Development and Innovation – An additional $55M should be allocated over the next two years for research and development of innovative Canadian space technologies including satellite communications, space based radar, and optical systems and robotics through competitive, broad based programs such as CSA’s Space Technologies Development Program (STDP); or participation in other ESA technology development programs. Investment in “preparatory activities” such as STDP would be $45M; with an additional $10M to spur the development of “downstream applications” that exploit space data as a growing component of the “big data” revolution.
  • (A) Commitment to Developing New Canadian Space Missions and Operations – Space missions are the heart of innovation and renewal for Canada’s space industry. New innovative technologies developed for space can only be validated if they are actually launched into orbit as a space mission, therefore, new space missions are essential. The AIAC recommends that Canada immediately initiate a program for the definition, design, development and execution of new Canadian space missions. With a budget of $27.5M over the next two years, initial mission development activities could be undertaken that will result in missions that address government priorities in the areas of communications and connectivity, monitoring climate change, weather, water management, security, cyber security, resource management, international collaboration, space science and exploration. These missions should be competitively selected and provide the flight opportunities to demonstrate Canadian space technologies that are the essential prerequisite for commercialization and international export. The scope of these missions would include stand-alone missions, Canadian-led contributions to larger international space missions, or the utilization of Canada’s access to the International Space Station for research experiments or demonstration instruments.
  • Continued Support for Flagship Programs and Capabilities – Canada is the world leader in space radar and robotics because of decades-long investments in the RADARSAT Earth Observation program and our partnership with NASA for space exploration programs. These unique capabilities brand Canada on the world stage as an advanced technology leader and an instrumental partner for global security cooperation and international space science and exploration missions. Important decisions need to be made now about how to maintain and grow Canada’s leadership in both of these strategically important areas. In order to support these decisions, $17.5M in funding is required over the next two years.
  • Develop and Maintain a Balanced Approach for Space – It is important to recognize that investment required to continue and extend marquee programs and industrial capabilities over the long term cannot be accommodated within the current budget of the Canadian Space Agency without displacing other critical activities and programs. A balanced approach that supports both legacy programs and a range of emerging innovative space initiatives in remote sensing, telecommunications, science and exploration is essential. Over the next decade Canadian space companies are confident that it will be possible to double Canada’s share of global markets and the sector’s economic contribution to the Canadian economy. The industry is working with ISED, CSA and other stakeholders to develop a realistic and affordable long term plan to achieve this goal. The 2016 budget commitment to ISS renewal is an important part of that long term plan. However, achieving this goal will also require a sustained increase to the CSA’s budget over the long term. as a bridge to the future Space Plan, an investment of $100M over the next two years is required.

Clearly the AIAC is looking to the Liberal government to signal a major commitment to the space program over the next two years with a request to provide $200 million in new funding.

Their Technology and Innovation Committee put forward the following recommendations;

  • Formalize aerospace as a strategic sector of national importance
  • Enhance the Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative and the Technology Demonstration Program
  • Create a unified national research network based on the success of GARDN and CARIC
  • Create a Canadian Innovation and Research program
  • Leverage Government procurements to stimulate innovation in Canada
  • Creation of a Grand Challenges Aero Initiative
  • Improvements to the SR&ED

I’ll only comment on the first recommendation. A report released earlier this year from the Canada – UK Colloquium also said that “Canada should recognize Space as a component in its Critical National Infrastructure.” It’s an important point the government should pay attention to.

The two submissions that dealt with space by the AIAC are substantial.

2. ABB Canada

ABB Canada is the Canadian arm of the Swiss headquartered multinational ABB Group. ABB Canada has 4,500 employees in Canada in 60 different locations, though many of their products are not related to the space sector. ABB Canada submitted the following recommendations;

  • Re-invest in recurring earth observation optics based space missions
  • Award more than one parallel competitive contracts for early developments of space missions and for investments in space R&D
  • Increase space R&D level of funding
  • Fly more frequently (e.g. every 2-3 years) responsive missions or payloads and shield the associated budgets from flagship mission cost overruns

Of note, the first recommendation is based on the notion of creating a world-leading Space Optics Cluster for Earth Observation. The current and part federal governments have in recent years been a strong supporter of clusters. ABB said the following in their brief;

“ABB welcomes the innovation agenda regarding the development of world-leading clusters. Past modest Government of Canada (GoC) investments in space optics have demonstrated a high degree of innovation. A cluster of academia, research institutions and optics based businesses is showing great potential and is recognized internationally. This cluster is ideally suited to meet the growing requirement for high quality/quantity earth observation data of Canada’s large land mass and coastal regions. For example, space based optical earth observations can be very efficient to meet Canadian priorities such as environment protection, weather and disaster forecast, climate change, air quality and greenhouse gases monitoring. These observations can provide data updates in almost real-time for science based governmental decisions. This domain has been somewhat neglected in recent years by the GoC. We recommend a re-investment in recurring earth observation optics based space missions as a targeted investment in a high potential cluster.”

There’s no doubt that the market for Earth Observation data is growing steadily and that several startups are trying to gain market share in this space including Canadensys, GHGSat, NorStar Data, SkyWatch and UrtheCast to name a few.

3. Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP)

The Canadian Association of Physicists has 1700 members and is Canada’s national association for physicists. The CAP testified at the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology for a study on the “State of Disruptive Technologies” on last year. In their submission the offered the following recommendations;

  • To keep pace with the growth of industrial and academic needs for the best and brightest highly qualified personnel, funding of merit-based NSERC Postgraduate and Postdoctoral Fellowship programs must be increased dramatically. The CAP recommends an increase of $78 million per year,1 phased in over 3 years, to boost Postgraduate Scholarships by 67% and Postdoctoral Fellowship awards by 130%.
  • To help rebuild a critical foundation for Canadian innovation capacity, the NSERC Discovery Grant program must be expanded to adjust for inflation, growth in GDP, and a growing national population. The CAP recommends that an increase at a rate of $47M per year, for each of the next three years, will go a long way toward restoring these Discovery research funding needs.

4. Canada’s National Youth STEM Organizations

This brief was submitted jointly by Actua, the Canadian Association of Science Centres, FIRST Robotics Canada, Let’s Talk Science, Partners in Research, SHAD and Youth Science Canada. They propose the following recommendations with a total five year budget of $5 million;

  • Establish a National Youth STEM Advisory Council
  • Create a national youth STEM program inventory
  • Develop an evidence-based national youth STEM promotion strategy
  • Foster collaboration to enable coordination and enhancement of youth STEM programs
  • Enable youth, parents, and educators to easily connect with STEM programs,organizations, and resources in their community

The Canada’s National Youth STEM Organizations prefaced their recommendations with these notable remarks; “Studies over the past 15 years have shown that at least two-thirds of Canadian kids ages 12-18 think STEM is important, interesting, and fun. Canadian students rank in the top 10 of 65 OECD countries on international tests of science achievement. Our kids like, and are good at STEM.”

“Yet, despite this potential, only about 30 percent of Canadian secondary school students take optional STEM courses after grade 10 (Secondary 3 in Quebec), limiting their access to opportunities in STEM-related fields and undermining Canada’s aspiration to global innovation leadership. In 2014 the CCA reported that Canada’s total employment in STEM occupations was just 30 percent – 22nd out of 37 countries.”

As well they say there are “well over 100 youth STEM related NGOs and associations offering school presentations, workshops, camps, experiences, challenges, and competitions” in Canada but that there is little collaboration between them. This in part forms the basis of their recommendations in wanting to build a national youth STEM development system.

5. Canadian Space Society (CSS)

The Canadian Space Society is proposing the following;

  • Increase the space workforce by 10% per year
  • Increase space-generated revenues by 10% per year or achieves $5 BN Cdn per year after 5 years
  • Works towards achieving Whole of Government (WoG) investment targets proportional to international allies/partners
  • Establishes Space Centres of Excellence across the country and including the Arctic
  • Invest in small satellite launching technology

Of interest in the Canadian Space Society submission is the notion of increasing the workforce by 10% per year. In their submission they expound on this by saying;

“Even before it became the third nation with a satellite in space in 1962, Canada could rightly be proud of the high-level of homegrown technological expertise that was available to achieve such accomplishments. These and follow-on space experts became instrumental in the development of advanced satellite communication, remote- sensing, and robotic technologies. These professionals tend to represent a large number of highly-paid taxpayers who are also key to the generation of revenues from space exports. The building of this capacity begins in middle-to-high school environments, and is enhanced by the establishment of specific space programs at under-graduate and post-graduate levels. Increased coordination with industry will help to ‘tailor/customize’ the educated output and thus allow said industry to expand its options for building business within and outside of Canada. Strategic investments and planning, in conjunction with the various levels of government, can help to optimize those opportunities that would see greater involvement by indigenous Canadians, and those who are looking for greater employment options. Canada should leverage the Canadian space community to map out these connections and advise on their development.”

6. Coalition for Canadian Astronomy

This submission represents a coalition of academics and industry. Academia is represented by the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA) with its 20 member universities and professional astronomers represented by the Canadian Astronomical Society (CASCA). While the Coalition has industry input, none were listed.

The Coalition for Canadian Astronomy put forward two recommendations;

  • Increase overall Canadian Space Agency (CSA) funding. A properly funded, ambitious and responsive space agency is the lynchpin for Canada’s continued success in space exploration in general, and astrophysics in particular.
  • Allocate $1 million for a “phase zero” study of Canada’s possible leadership role in future missions, such as the CASTOR space telescope project.

While the Coalition is happy with funding for some key long-term projects, moving forward with new projects will be difficult they say due to a declining CSA budget. In particular their Executive Summary says “the next phase in the plan is to grow Canada’s leadership in space astronomy. There are several pending opportunities to develop a world-class space astronomy program. However, these opportunities require long-term funding for space astronomy within the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) of roughly $30 million annually, a rate commensurate with its investment in space astronomy for much of the past decade.”

“Recent investment in space astronomy has dropped to roughly half the required level because of the general decline in the CSA’s overall budget. This lack of investment puts Canada’s position as a leading space-faring nation at risk because it forces the Agency to take a very short-term view, while ambitious space missions take years to plan.”

7. Universities

Of the 15 briefs submitted by universities only two specifically mention anything related to space, the University of Manitoba and the University of Calgary.

The University of Manitoba highlighted the following in their brief;

“In 2014, Canada’s universities carried out 40 per cent–more than $13 billion–of all research and development in this country. Every year, universities spend close to $1 billion in research for business alone, helping build their competitive advantage. The amount of university research conducted with Canadian businesses has nearly doubled since 2000.”

  • “The University of Manitoba is working successfully with industry to address challenges.” I’ve listed one of the three examples they mention.

“The new Advanced Satellite Integration Facility (ASIF) at Magellan Aerospace in Winnipeg will bring our experts together to research, develop, and test satellite communication buses and components.”

“Despite the successes of our university and others across Canada, we need more federal support for research and development, and research partnerships with industry.”

“In a 2014 report by the Science, Technology and Innovation Council, Canada ranked 26th internationally on business expenditures for research and development as a share of gross domestic product. Building more university partnerships with industry will help prevent Canada from falling further behind.”

The university is one of several who has seen that there’s a market for small satellites and is looking to take advantage of it. An announcement by the Canadian Space Agency for funding towards building one small satellite in each province was to have been announced this summer but was put on hold. SpaceRef contacted the CSA to find out when the announcement might be forthcoming but did not receive a reply back yet.

The University of Calgary recommend the following in their brief;

Recommendation 5: “Make available within the reinvestment in the Canada Foundation for Innovation resources to enhance it to develop, implement and fund a national strategy on big science in support of Canada reclaiming 3rd place spot in the OECD for HERD investment intensity”

Background to Recommendation 5: Big Science: Canada and the World

“The Government of Canada should encourage international research partnerships–like the European Space Agency’s Swarm Magnetic Field Mission partnership with the Canadian Space Agency and the University of Calgary–and ensure Canadians have the resources necessary to make significant contributions to international collaborations, at all stages of development in a timely manner, including as host nation when appropriate. Making the resources available for big science both in Canada and abroad, and ensuring they are significant, will have immediate benefits in spin-offs to the Canadian economy by developing new industries and capabilities. The federal government should develop a national strategy for major science investments, led by the Canada Foundation for Innovation and backed by sustained and enhanced funding. Such a strategy would add clarity and predictability to Canada’s innovation ecosystem.”

It should be noted other universities mentioned Canada’s R&D intensity including the University of British Columbia (UBC) who said “Overall, Canada’s R&D intensity (GERD as percentage of GDP) has steadily declined from a high of 2.03 in 2001 to 1.61 in 2014, a 20% decline and well behind the OECD average of 2.38. Meanwhile, comparator countries like Germany have pressed ahead, achieving intensities of 2.9 in 2014, and historically R&D-intensive countries like Korea, Israel, and japan continue to lead with 4.29, 4.11, and 3.59, respectively.”
“In the absence of strong Canadian private sector spending on R&D, federal investments in the granting councils, as well as in other research granting bodies such as the Canada Foundation for Innovation and Genome Canada, have buoyed the Canadian research enterprise, positioning Canadian institutions among the world’s best and enabling them to conduct vital R&D. While measures to increase private sector R&D will rightly be examined as part of the Innovation Agenda, Canada must continue to invest through the granting councils in its current strength, its world-class research university sector, or it risks a further decline in overall R&D intensity and a corresponding decline in Canada’s economic competitiveness.”

The point regarding low private sector R&D is a good one and which will hopefully result in the government putting forwards measure to encourage the private sector to increase R&D funding within Canada.

* Disclaimer: The Canadian Space Policy Symposium was originally my idea when I was the CEO of the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA). After I left the CSCA in June, the mantle and hard work, was taken up by others including the new CEO, Michelle Mendes. I was an advisor to the event, albeit in a small capacity.

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.