The space sector has come a long way in the fifty-plus years since Sputnik and Explorer and Alouette.
It has become an increasingly complex part of the global infrastructure; moving from the primarily Cold War driven technology display of the space race to what it is today – a relatively small but diverse sector that has an inordinate impact on a number of areas of society: science, defence, industry, education, politics, and media. With global positioning systems, satellite communications, and orbital weather monitoring systems, it’s difficult to find an aspect of society that is free from the benefits of space technology.
Of Canada’s many specialties in space, two are on the non-technical end of the scale. One of those is in finding creative ways to extend our capability on limited resources; another is in leveraging strategic partnerships with our allies, most notably the United States (U.S.). The Canadian-U.S. relationship in space activities goes right back to Canada’s first forays in space: Black Brant rockets, Alouette 1 and through the North America Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) mission.
Bill Mackey, the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) Counsellor for Space Affairs in Washington D.C. explains, “For over 50 years, Canada and the U.S. have collaborated in space through planetary science, human exploration, environmental monitoring, search and rescue, disaster management, and national security missions. Canada’s space industry contributes to the success of many U.S. Space programs – from the landing gear of the Apollo Lunar Lander to the robotics and sensor systems on the space shuttle, to the assembly, maintenance and operations of the International Space Station and to a wide range of components currently being used to build the world’s most complex satellites.”
Mackey’s position has long been a part of the CSA team. His predecessor was in the position for 22 years, facilitating cooperation between the CSA and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and other civil space agencies.
As space activities expanded into other areas, other government departments have added representatives to facilitate their space related interests in Washington as well. Major Charity Weeden is the Assistant Attaché Air & Space Operations for the Canadian Defence Liaison Staff (Washington). “National security space garners a lot of political attention here in Washington.” says Weeden. “Knowing what activities that attention is focused on is of value,” according to Weeden, “and having a Canadian presence in Washington bolsters opportunities for space activities and partnerships.”
Working from the Canadian Embassy, a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, puts Weeden and Mackey close to the U.S. decision makers and to a growing global centre for space programs. “The Embassy of Canada is well positioned to reach out to all segments of the U.S. space sector.” said Deputy Head of Mission at the Canadian Embassy, Deborah Lyons. Indeed, a Canadian presence in Washington is crucial to be able to personally reach out to and converse with the many people who create and implement space policy in the U.S.
Washington is home to representatives of major space-related agencies such as NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and space domain stakeholders throughout the Department of Defense (DOD) and other government agencies. It is also home to major aerospace industry representatives, embassies of space-faring nations, and other international aerospace organizations. “There is a lot of space activity happening around D.C. Conferences, think-tank sessions, multilateral dialogue, outreach events, and more.” said Weeden, “Space activities in Washington span the breadth of national security, civil, and commercial arenas.” Each of those areas is massive and complex in the U.S. and space activity is interspersed and interwoven at many levels within them.
To address the complexity and extent of the space sector, Lyons spearheaded the creation of the Embassy Space Working Group (ESWG), last year. The group involves all Government of Canada stakeholder representatives in the Embassy: CSA, Department of National Defence (DND) (including Research and Development), Political and International Trade, Industry Canada, Public Safety, and Congressional and Public Affairs to name a few. The result is a whole of government approach to Canadian space affairs in Washington.
The ESWG functions to increase the communication between the various Canadian departments as to their own goals and understanding of U.S. interests and opportunities, and to cooperate in presenting Canadian capabilities and strategic partnerships to the U.S. and global market. “Our shared future in space is the reason why I am encouraging a multi-disciplinary dialogue, which is both expanding the knowledge base within the Embassy, and communicating Canadian space sector capabilities to our U.S. commercial and government partners,” explained Lyons.
According to Weeden, the approach is succeeding, “The ESWG has certainly broadened my perspective of the level of interest and involvement in space activities throughout the various Canadian government departments. This team approach has also exposed the spectrum of Canadian space interests and programs to the U.S. Space community. It encourages interdepartmental coordination, in an effort to bring innovative ideas and programs to fruition for the benefit of Canada.”
The Wideband Global Satcom System (WGS) and James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) are prime examples of programs that members of the ESWG pay close attention to. Both of these projects will benefit Canada by allowing access to capabilities that Canada could not afford to build alone. The U.S. benefits from the financial support, and the strengthening of the relationship between the two nations. And cooperation in one area leads to opportunities in others. Weeden said “Canada is not just partner in one arena of space but a trusted partner throughout a wide range of space activities. ”
It is through agreements like WGS and JWST, and the success of historic U.S.-Canadian space and defence collaboration, that this trust has been built. This bi-national relationship ensures continued opportunities for Canadian companies and organizations to participate in significant space missions with the U.S. A valuable partnership, given the benefits Canada receives.
“Space is of critical importance to Canada and as such, the Canadian Embassy is committed to working with U.S. stakeholders in every sector in which space systems can enhance the safety, security and the socioeconomic development of each country,” explained Lyons.
According to Mackey, “Our continued collaboration with U.S. Departments and Agencies like NASA, NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], FAA [Federal Aviation Administration], and DOD will only help ensure advancements in Canadian space science, innovative technologies and in the Canadian space sector as a whole.”
Part of the equation is informing the U.S. administration, and other space representatives, of exactly what it is that Canada can do. Canadian expertise spans a wide variety of technologies and other areas. Even from within Canada, it’s impossible to know them all, even more difficult for foreign representatives. The ESWG serves as an information channel to inform the U.S. agencies of Canadian space capability. One of the vehicles used by the ESWG to market Canadian capability is the Canada in Space Exhibit, procured by the Embassy of Canada with partnership from Telesat, The Canadian Air and Space Museum of Toronto, and Macdonald Dettwiler and Associates.
On display at the Embassy last summer through to September 2012 to mark the 50th anniversary of Alouette 1, the Canada in Space Exhibit displays some of the remarkable Canadian achievements in space over the past half century; capabilities such as sounding rockets, atmospheric sciences, communications, robotics, and remote sensing, to name but a few. The Canada in Space exhibit will continue to be displayed in a variety of U.S. and potentially world-wide locations. The next stop for the traveling exhibit is Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The Embassy hosts many visitors, most whom have no direct tie to Canada’s space sector. Thus the Exhibit also served to educate a broader audience. Education and outreach initiatives like this helps to spread the knowledge of the benefit of space programs and potentially spurs youth into related educations and careers. “I cannot think of a better topic to inspire Canadian youth to consider education paths toward science, technology, engineering and math than Space,” said Mackey.
The ESWG performs an important and valuable function for the Canadian space sector. The U.S. space program is by far the largest, and by having “boots on the ground” in Washington, Canada is better poised to understand the directions the U.S. taking, and thus providing Canadian space companies with a better understanding of the current and future opportunities.
By developing the ESWG as multi-departmental group, Lyons has demonstrated that the Space Team Canada approach has significant advantages. In this case by multiplying the eyes and ears, and cooperating across distinct groups to better position Canada for successful cooperation in space programs.
By Ryan Anderson for SpaceRef
Ryan Anderson is a Sr. Satellite Engineer with Telesat and Chair of the Ottawa Chapter of the Canadian Space Society. He narrated a documentary on Near Earth Objects and Planetary Defense for the Space Generation Advisory Council and regularly presents on Space topics for local schools and organizations.