In the span of one month the Space Advisory Board met in person with over 100 stakeholders at meetings organized across the country and over 60 people joined in during two online meetings late last week, one geared for young Canadians, and the other for those in Canada’s north.
The new Space Strategy Minister Bains will unveil next month is not a Long Term Space Plan. It’s a high-level follow-on to the previous Conservative governments Space Policy Framework.
The Lead-up to the Consultations
While the Space Advisory Board had only a month to gather feedback for a report, it wasn’t the only consultation process the government initiated.
In fact as early as last summer the government approached the Ottawa based not-for-profit Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) to provide feedback on Canada’s space strategy. This is not an unusual, the AIAC has long been the go to organization for the government to consult in these matters.
However, it should be noted the AIAC membership is overwhelmingly aviation focused and companies that are “space” focused constitute a small percentage of its members. Nevertheless the companies that are members include some of Canada’s largest space companies. Membership fees are not cheap, meaning only companies with deeper pockets or those willing to make the financial commitment, get to sit on their Space Committee and participate in any consultation with the government.
So where does this leave the startups and smaller companies? Those companies have been turning to the Toronto based Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA) which was established in 2007 and is solely focused on space. And with the inclusion of Michelle Mendes, Executive Director of the CSCA, on the Space Advisory Board, the government is at least acknowledging that it needs to broaden whom they consult with from an industry association perspective. And in the era of “New Space”, the CSCA is well positioned to provide input from the fast growing space startup community which is where some of Canada’s future innovation will come from.
At the same time the government was beginning to focus some energy on the space sector last summer they were already in the midst of the Innovation and Skills Consultation. This along with the government seeking AIAC input on Canada’s space strategy, led to the AIAC crafting a 26 page white paper titled “The Future of Canada’s Space Sector – An Engine of Innovation for Over Fifty Years” which was submitted to the Innovation and Skills Consultation. That white paper then had some influence on the Space Strategy Consultation Paper which was released when the Space Advisory Board was created.
Two other recent events also would have had some influence on the Space Strategy Consultation.
Last fall, the CSCA held its first Canadian Space Policy Symposium which included representatives from government, academia and industry and was well received. And this spring the CSCA and the AIAC organized the Space 2.0 Roundtable at the request of the Canadian Space Agency. That event brought together many of the “New Space” players the CSCA has been attracting along with some of the established players. A report from this event was released in late April.
The Space Strategy Consultation was a short, and sometimes boisterous endeavour. And while the space community would have preferred more notice, more meetings, the government achieved what it set out to do. That being able to publicly say it had consulted with stakeholders and that the new Space Strategy is in part a reflection of what the space community wanted. In other words, the government was listening.
Most of the consultation meetings were your typical professional consultations with little in the way of raised voices or strong emotions shown. However, sources tell SpaceQ that wasn’t the case in Ottawa or Vancouver.
It should be noted that the meetings were held under Chatham House Rules allowing speakers to speak freely without their names or affiliation being revealed. While SpaceQ observed this rule allowing us to report on the meetings, we opined that the meetings should have been open and public.
In Ottawa a couple invited stakeholders were both very vocal and offered prolonged views on specific topics, a way of making sure the government understood clearly where they stood and what they thought the government should be doing.
In Vancouver the hot topic was the Remote Sensing Space Systems Act. Many who attended this meeting lamented the outdated nature of the Act, the lack of government movement on updating or replacing the Act and the belief that the government was hampering business with its inaction.
For its part, the government previous stated to SpaceQ that “we are working with government partners to review the broader space regulatory environment to ensure that it is best positioned to address national security and offer real opportunities to Canadian businesses.”
However, as we exclusively reported previously in “A Review of Canada’s Remote Sensing Law Recommends Creating a New General Outer Space Act“, the review conducted by the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University was provided to government, buried on its website, and no public release was issued with its findings, which are significant.
Many of the participants used the opportunity of the consultations to expound on their current work and explain why the government should include their areas of interest as part of an overall strategy going forward. This was to be expected as organizations protect their turf.
The trick for both the Space Advisory Board in writing their report, and by government in reviewing the consultation process, is to sift through all the information, biased or not, and to build a coherent strategy based on the current market, Canadian expertise, potential future products and Canada’s national interests and needs.
This brings up a point that was made at a couple of meetings and was part the recent Senate report Military underfunded: The walk must match the talk which in part concluded that Canada’s space assets need to be declared critical to the nations’ infrastructure and protected. This is a theme that has come up several times in recent years.
Another recurring theme mentioned either directly or indirectly is the money allocated to Canada’s civil space program. in 1999, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) A-Base budget was set at $300 million. This funding was meant to maintain Canada’s core programs going forward. However, adjusted for inflation* the CSA A-Base funding in 2017 dollars would have to be set at $423 million just to meet the its core programs. The 2017-18 budget is planned at $353 million. Major projects such as the RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM), a $1 billion+ program, is meant to be funded over and above the A-Base funding. The result of recent and the current budget is that the CSA A-Base budget has been shrinking, meaning less core funding, and no funding for major projects other than the almost completed RCM. And while Budget 2017 included $80.9 million of new funding, it’s over five years, a small amount and not nearly enough to satisfy the community or to foster innovation.
Sanitized notes from consultations are being posted to the Space Advisory Board website. Currently the Ottawa and Halifax consultation notes are posted while notes from the rest of the events should be online by the end of next week or shortly thereafter.
Hints of What’s to Come
While the Space Strategy Consultation Paper was labelled “for discussion purposes only”, it seems evident that it hints at what’s to come in the new Space Strategy.
In section 3. Moving Forward – Proposed Objectives and Goals/Areas for Action it states “to achieve these aims, discussions related to Canada’s strategic objectives could focus on two key areas. Firstly, Canada will consider how best to use space to drive broader economic growth by ensuring the space sector is positioned for success, is a deep source of innovation, an engine for partnerships and a source of inspiration for the next generation of scientists, innovators and explorers. Secondly, we will consider how Canada will leverage space for the benefit of Canadians by applying our space knowledge and expertise to address global challenges, by increasing the integration of space technologies into everyday life, and by continuing to use space to support key government mandates.”
“These two objectives could be achieved by a proposed series of key goals and areas for action that reflect Canada’s aspirations for the future of the space program over a 10-year horizon.”
This seems to hint that a sort of Long Term Space Plan could be put in place as a result of a new Space Strategy.
Waiting on the Government
For the space community it’s a waiting game now. Waiting to see what’s in the new Space Strategy. Then waiting to see if a this new Space Strategy will lead to a Long Term Space Plan or if it’s a high-level Long Term Space Plan itself. Then waiting to see if the next budget includes an increase to the space program budget and if there are any new major projects.
The space community is getting used to waiting. However, many countries aren’t waiting. The number of countries investing in their space programs is increasing. And Canada’s direct competitors aren’t waiting.
The government has done a lot of talking and now listening. Is action next?
*Based on the Bank of Canada inflation calculator.
Disclaimer: The author of this article was a co-founder of the Canadian Space Commerce Association and is a currently an adviser.