Canada closes a busy 2021 in space business

Lightspeed LEO satellite illustration. Credit: Telesat.

The last 12 months have been some of the most active months in the Canadian space industry for years, with news of IPOs, major contracts and also a lot of activity surrounding Canadian launches and missions.

SpaceQ has been following hundreds of Canadian space stories over the last year to show its importance to the greater economy, as well as the impact space has on the thousands upon thousands of workers who are directly working in the industry.

Below are what we consider the top 10 stories of 2021.

How we monitor wildfires and natural disasters is about to change
File photo: How we monitor wildfires is about to change. Credit: Canadian Space Agency.

Global warming

There is no question that global warming is a growing threat to Canadians. This year alone saw record-breaking fires in the west, devastating flooding in British Columbia, and the COP26 meeting (more officially called the United Nations Climate Change Conference) of global leaders in Glasgow late in 2021. 

At SpaceQ, we focused on the story of how satellite information is used for decision-makers on Earth. We interviewed folks at the front line of firefighting to learn more about how they deploy this vital information to their personnel, as quickly as possible, to adapt to changing conditions. Read the story here.

ISED Minister Bains and the Space Advisory Board.
ISED Minister Bains and the Space Advisory Board. Credit: ISED.

The dormancy of Canada’s space advisory board

The Canadian space community needs a firm direction to figure out where to pivot next, as the technology of space exploration changes quickly. Some of the emerging space trends since the last space plan of 2019 include megaconstellations and artificial intelligence, while some of the larger companies (as we’ll see later in this story) are investing in generational projects and want to make sure that they are making the right industry bets.

In the U.S. it was announced in April that the Biden administration will keep the National Space Council going, but Canada’s space advisory board was hardly active at all in 2021. To find out more about why that’s happening and what that means, read our story here.\

Canadian Space Agency
Credit: SpaceQ/Canadian Space Agency.

Canadian Space Agency budget increases by just over 2%

While the CSA is not the only driver of space exploration in Canada – national defence, environmental agencies and private space companies are also big players – Canada’s civilian space agency is a known linker of these different priorities and also has direct access to discussions with NASA. 

Its planned spending for the 2021 fiscal year was $403.6 million, a 2.2% increase over the previous year. A couple of items that we drew attention to in our story not only include the high-profile lunar program, but also the budgetary items regarding technology development and what that means in the context of the Emerson report. Technology funding is one of those “important, but not urgent” things that are important to watch to keep our space economy current.

Another batch of SpaceX Starlink satellites are deployed on October 24, 2020
Another batch of SpaceX Starlink satellites are deployed on October 24, 2020. Credit: SpaceX.

SpaceX’s Starlink beta expands

SpaceX’s Starlink metaconstellation reached wider use in Canada this year. Since SpaceX is one of the larger players in the consumer satellite broadband business, it will be the one to watch for the time being to see how its promises play out about higher speed and greater access for those Canadians that are in rural areas. 

Our story about Starlink noted that there are limitations to the rollout, including the fact that it is a “beta” – which means that the system is still in testing and there will be expected downtime. Canadian users on the waitlist also experienced delays later in 2021 (after this story was written) due to ongoing semiconductor shortages in the industry, which affected the shipment of SpaceX terminals. There will be more updates to come on this in 2022.

COVID-19 epidemiology in Canada Daily Update for Nov. 4, 2021
COVID-19 epidemiology in Canada daily update for Nov. 4, 2021. Credit: Government of Canada.

CSA’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements come into force

The CSA, like other government departments, began instituting COVID-19 vaccine requirements for its suppliers as of Nov. 15. As the story showed, the policy asked that suppliers send a certification form to verify all personnel who need to access workplaces will be double-vaccinated, with consequences for non-compliance including termination of the contract. One of the high-profile projects affected was a Lunar Exploration Acceleration Project (LEAP) tender.

We’ll be following this item closely to see how the arrival of the omicron variant a few weeks later affects vaccination requirements. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the President of the United States, has said it is only a matter of time before boosters – only becoming widely available to adults in Ontario on Jan. 4 – will change the “fully vaccinated” requirement in the U.S. to three shots. It’s very likely that Canada will implement similar requirements.

NASA's Webb Telescope Inside Goddard Clean Room
NASA’s Webb Telescope Inside Goddard Clean Room. NASA/Goddard/Chris Gunn.

The mighty, but much-delayed Webb telescope inches towards launch

As of the time of this writing, the James Webb Space Telescope has a launch date of Dec. 24, which is something like 15 years past the original time the generational observatory was set to fly. Webb is intended to be a replacement to the Hubble Space Telescope, but unlike Hubble will be orbiting at a Lagrange point, too far away from Earth for astronaut service. (Hubble is still working well, having recovered from a safe mode incident in October, and should Webb go to plan the two observatories will share duties on some observations.)

Our story about Webb previewed the Canadian science that will be performed with the telescope. We have a guaranteed share of observing time that will allow us to do observations of many things, including what the early universe looked like in the first 100 million years after the Big Bang. It’s hard to predict what science Webb will uncover, but consider this fact: Hubble’s assistance in determining the universe is accelerating was honored by a Nobel Prize. So there will be value in looking deep into the cosmos to see what is there.

Government of Ontario announcement
Government of Ontario announcement of investment in Telesat Lightspeed. Credit: Government of Ontario.

Telesat public listing and Lightspeed funding

Telesat was one of the most-high profile companies of 2021, basically culminating the year with a listing on the NASDAQ that – as we explained in our story – is expected to position the company for future opportunities since it can perform fundraising. Also of note was the various huge funding opportunities Telesat received directly from governments earlier in the year, including $1.44 billion from the Government of Canada and other major deals with the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, all related to its Lightspeed constellation.

What to watch for in 2022 will be the result of these various funding efforts – such as Lightspeed technology development, infrastructure creation and contracts to other companies. We’ll also be interested in how anticipated supply chain delays play out into the deployment of Lightspeed. Telesat is not unique in having this problem, but what will be key is how it addresses these issues to impact the deployment of this constellation as little as possible.

Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program
Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program (LEAP). Credit: Canadian Space Agency.

The many LEAP program contracts, Canadarm3 … and Artemis

Listing the impact of LEAP briefly is difficult in a couple of paragraphs, but the larger issue to point to is the fact that many companies are now getting the chance to be involved in early-stage lunar exploration in Canada. 

Numerous contracts were awarded under the program this year for future landing missions, and there also is ongoing development of a microrover that is expected to deploy on the surface later in the 2020s. Also note that MDA continued its work on the Canadarm3 robotic arm that is going to be placed onto the lunar Gateway station later in the decade, if all goes to plan – and that is having a huge positive impact on MDA’s workforce and technical development.

Canada and its international partners on Artemis (led by NASA) are aiming to send astronauts to the surface in 2025, a year delayed from an initial 2024 deadline due to a series of technical, funding and legal challenges on NASA’s end. One thing to watch for is the planned Artemis 2 mission that is now planned for 2024. It’s possible the Canadian astronaut on that mission will be announced for next year.

Artist illustration - Deep Space Food Challenge
Artist illustration – Deep Space Food Challenge. Credit: Canadian Space Agency.

The CSA’s Deep Space Healthcare and Deep Space Food challenges

On the technology development side, the CSA is working to ensure a robust set of technical items that will support future moon missions. This was the framework by which it launched two major challenges in recent months – the Deep Space Healthcare Challenge (which was only just announced, late in the year) and the Deep Space Food Challenge (which progressed to the first selection of awardees, aiming for an eventual 2024 downselection.)

The hope is these challenges will also produce useful products for Canadians living in remote circumstances, such as Indigenous communities or seniors who are unable to leave their residences very often. It also is possible that this early-stage funding may spur new companies or new lines of innovation related to food or health, so watch SpaceQ as such developments may arise.

A map of the surrounding area in the Canso area of MLS facilities. Credit: Maritime Launch Services.
A map of the surrounding area in the Canso area of MLS facilities. Credit: Maritime Launch Services.

Huge progress towards Canada’s maritime launch site

Development of Maritime Launch Service’s Spaceport Nova Scotia pushed forward to a large degree in 2021, with several major announcements towards the end of the year. We learned that Nanoracks will be the first customer, with a launch planned in 2023. Its preliminary design for a Launch Control Centre is released, and it has also received federal and provincial government endorsement. The company also created a U.S. subsidiary to ease integration for American contracts.

The major question about this new launch site will be how it differentiates itself from other launch ports throughout the world, but if the idea works, a Canadian launch site will make it considerably easier for Canadian companies to launch given the proximity and lack of a border. Especially during a pandemic era where cross-border access is uncertain, this may be helpful for smaller Canadian companies to get their products off the ground.

About Elizabeth Howell

Is SpaceQ's Associate Editor as well as a business and science reporter, researcher and consultant. She recently received her Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota and is communications Instructor instructor at Algonquin College.

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