2019 Canadian Federal Budget Provides New Funding For Low Earth Orbit Satellite Capacity

Artist illustration of satellite and cyberspace. Credit: Zern Liew/Garik Barseghyan/SpaceQ.

As had been reported, the 2019 Canadian federal budget includes new funding that will be spent towards securing Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite capacity.

LEO satellite capacity

The new funding to secure LEO satellite capacity is part of the much broader $5 – $6 billion proposed investment in rural broadband over 10 years. Of that funding, $1.7 billion is earmarked for a new Universal Broadband Fund which includes the LEO satellite capacity initiative.

The beneficiaries of this new program would include Telesat, their suppliers and other smaller companies. The list of Telesat suppliers is long and includes Honeywell, MDA and others smaller tier players. In other words, the funding will get spread around.

In response to the budget announcement Dan Goldberg, Telesat’s President and CEO said “Telesat LEO is the most ambitious global broadband infrastructure program ever conceived in Canada and will revolutionize how Canadians, no matter where they are located, experience and leverage the Internet. Universal access to affordable, reliable, and high speed broadband connectivity is a necessity for today’s digital economy and the prosperity of all Canadians. We applaud the government’s commitment to bridge the digital divide in Canada and its recognition of the power and promise of LEO satellite constellations to achieve this critically important objective.”

The details of the Universal Broadband Fund however have not been released yet. So we don’t know exactly what amount of funds of that $1.7 billion will go specifically to the LEO satellite capacity initiative. All we know is that the funds will be distributed over 13 years.

The moon and beyond

A full page (115) of the budget is devoted to Canada’s recently announced moon initiative along with a token mention of Mars.

What is curious is what’s in the following paragraph;

“Canada’s contributions to the Lunar Gateway will build on Canada’s world-leading capabilities in robotics and further strengthen space companies in Canada, notably in Quebec which is home to many first-rate space companies. Canada’s contribution will also create opportunities for Canadian participation in future exploration missions to the Moon and open opportunities for additional Canadian astronaut flights.”

Why single out Quebec? This would seem to me a clear case of election pandering for votes. But since this is an election budget, I suppose we shouldn’t expect anything less.

The budget does provide some insight on when some of the recently announced $2.05 billion of funding will be spent by the Canadian Space Agency. $1.9 billion of that funding for the Lunar Gateway program is to be spent over 24 years.

Budget 2019 funding timeline for moon and beyond
Credit: Government of Canada.

The bulk of the early funding doesn’t kick in until fiscal year (FY) 2021. Over the three year span of FY 2021-2023 $726 million will be spent.

What is important is that during the coming government fiscal year which starts on April 1, the Canadian Space Agency will only get $10 million in initial funds for the moon initiative.

This isn’t a big surprise as the Lunar Gateway program is just getting started and the bulk of the funding won’t be needed for a couple of years. However, this is an election year. With only $10 million committed to the Lunar Gateway in FY 2019-20, it certainly does make it easier for a different government to come in and cancel the program with little financial impact. The political and economic impact of cancelling the program would be more problematic.

Budget 2019 funding from other programs towards the moon and beyond
Credit: Government of Canada.

The budget also includes the above line item with funding earmarked for the moon and beyond. It’s unclear if this funding is over and above the funding allocated to the Canadian Space Agency to spend. SpaceQ has reached out to the finance department for clarification.

Space and health care

Also part of the recently announced space strategy, the government is continuing its pursuit of spending on health initiatives that have terrestrial spin-offs. As part of Canada’s contribution to the Lunar Gateway, Canada will be investing in Artificial Intelligence in part related to space medical care.

The budget allocates up to $14 million over five years, starting in this fiscal year so that the Canadian Space Agency can “identify opportunities where space, health and Indigenous partners could work together to develop approaches and innovative technology solutions to address challenges common to both deep space and remote health care environments.”

Space and budgets

Heading into the election the Liberal government has proven over its current mandate that it can procrastinate like many previous governments when it comes to putting meaningful funding and policy into play on the space file.

They have however been consistent in mentioning and providing funding in each budget.

In the 2016 budget they allocated $379 million for the continuation of Canada’s involvement in the International Space Station (ISS) through 2024. It should be noted that it was the previous Conservative government that had made the commitment for Canada to continue in the ISS program, but that it was the Liberals who actually allocated the funding. Both parties can claim this one in their electioneering.

In the 2017 budget there was a small amount of funding ($80.9M) for a Mars orbiter radar instrument, the quantum encryption technology for the QEYSSat satellite mission and the Canadian CubeSat Project.

The 2018 budget was a big on science other than for the space program but did include the first funding for the LEO Satellite capacity initiative.

It’s only just before the 2019 budget was announced that the Liberal government “stepped-up” to fund the Lunar Gateway and announce a new space strategy. The bulk of the funding and strategy won’t be executed until after this years election.

If the Liberals are re-elected then the funding and strategy should be executed. However, the space community will want to hear from the other parties to learn if they will follow on the current Liberal space plans should they get elected.

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 Interactive Inc. Boucher has 20 years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 28 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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