Canada decides it wants to be a launching state

Illustration of rocket launching. Credit: Shutterstock/SpaceQ.

The Government of Canada has made the decision that it wants to be a launching state. The day that rockets carrying satellites to orbit and beyond from Canadian soil is now closer than its ever been.

On Tuesday, October 27, the CASI ASTRO 2020 virtual series continued with a panel discussion on regulatory modernization. The panel was originally scheduled for CASI ASTRO 2020 in-person conference which was scheduled for May but was postponed due to the pandemic.

So while there have been recent panel discussions hosted by other organizations, including discussion of regulatory reform, this one seemed to provide more substance. I’ll discuss the launch part of the discussion in this article and other topics in a separate article.

Representing Transport Canada was Patrick Juneau, Director, Aviation Safety Policy and Intelligence. Juneau’s introduction of his area included mentioning that he works primarily in the civil aviation directorate. Having said that, he has been the public go to person in providing updates on what’s happening with respect to regulatory reform for the launch industry. His opening remarks set the stage well.

“When it comes to launch, many of you grasp the interconnectedness that exists right away with aviation. You’re talking about moving stuff through airspace, you’re talking about moving goods and people. And so there’s a very heavy nexus when it comes to launch with civil aviation in the framework that we have today.”

“The Aeronautics Act, which is the primary piece of legislation that I handle was not suited or built around space, but it does cover off at least some essential elements that allow us to make some movement on the pile for sure. You can squarely think of a spaceport, or a place where you might launch rockets as an aerodrome. And in some cases, when you’re talking about horizontal takeoff piece, it fits well within that box. You move through the airspace, so that needs to be managed to their dangers as you move up dangers as you move down. And so there’s different pieces that we can at least learn from, inspire ourselves from, and recycle. So my objectives in this is, is really framed around addressing the safety issues as you talk about moving through airspace as you talk about needing a regulatory regime for these types of activities, but also setting the sort of predictability out of that sector as well.”

At this point panelists from Global Affairs Canada (GAC), Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), and the Canadian Space Agency provided their introductory remarks.

Following the introductions, Aram Daniel Kerkonian, the moderator and who works as a policy director in the Space and Marine Directorate at ISED, gave each panelists an opportunity to share updates on their space files. This is where it got interesting.

Juneau framed his comments of whether Canada should be a launching state from Transport Canada’s (TC) perspective by saying it needs to take into account the socio-economic benefit to Canada. “We’re a socio-economic department at the end of the day.”

When launch began to be discussed a few years ago, the first question TC needed to answer was whether Canada wanted to be a launching state. Juneau said “it’s really been about establishing first and foremost the answer to the question, does Canada want to be a launch state? We’ve had proponents come in from the private sector, come into Canada and want to set up shop in Canada, which is great. From an economic perspective, there’s never been any argument that that could be a bad thing. But from a from a whole of government perspective, and a government of Canada perspective, we hadn’t initially out the gate when some of this was happening, answer the question does Canada want to take on the responsibility of what it means to be a launch state.”

Juneau later said “the idea of Canada being a launch state just isn’t something that was sort of crossing our minds even as recently as three years ago.”

To put some additional context to this, Marc Garneau the Transport Minister and former president of the Canadian Space Agency and an astronaut, was not a proponent of Canada becoming a launch state until recently it seems. At an event in Ottawa on October 23, 2018, I asked the Minister if the regulatory framework for suborbital and orbital launches were being updated. His response was that he didn’t know and that I was the first to ask him this. Previously he had been on record saying that Canada didn’t need launch capability as it was too expensive and the space program didn’t have the budget.

Fast forward to now and using a whole of government approach, TC has consulted with ISED, with GAC, with Natural Resources Canada and other departments. And with the release of the space strategy last year, TC has been working towards a framework for how a launch regime would work in Canada.

Juneau then answered the launch question. “Now thankfully, with the publication of the space strategy, and certain elements around regulatory modernization, we’ve been able to answer that question and say, yes, this is an area that we want to enable Canada to venture into.”

And there you have it. With little fanfare, and working quietly, and it seems diligently, Canada has made the decision to become a launching state.

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There’s no doubt that the proliferation of commercial launch companies globally had an impact. There’s no doubt that interest within Canada, including the desire of Maritime Launch Services to build a spaceport in Nova Scotia had an impact. But most importantly, the economic equation has changed. While the government will still need to be at least a customer of any Canadian launch services, it is the fact that commercial companies are willing to invest in this area that has made an impact.

Juneau then went on to conclude his discussion on launch.

“Does Canada want to be a launch state? We’ve been able to answer that, now we’re moving towards what does the launch regime look like for this country. COVID evidently slowed some of that down. But I mean, we’re able to discuss, we’re able to engage, and the message I sort of want to leave my intervention with is, for those of you that are in the private sector, for those of you that are looking to set up shop or have these ideas, the sooner you engage with us, the federal government, the sooner you start that outreach and and start talking to us, it’s through the Space Agency or Global Affairs, anybody else, the more work we can do in trying to set up and create that. We’re in the process right now off shaping what that framework will look like. We’re trying to iron out what those pieces will look like.

“Importantly, your input is what we’re going to use to help develop and make sure that we’re right sizing it, that we’re doing it in a way that’s going to enable business because at the end of the day, that’s what we want to do, is we want to enable this activity, but make sure it happens in a safe and secure way in this country as well.”

About 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 LLC. Boucher has 20+ years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 30 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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