Canada is heading back to the International Space Station, this time on a Starliner flight. Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut Joshua Kutryk will fly the first operational Starliner mission no earlier than 2025, the agency announced today (Nov. 22). And that’s not the only flight opportunity in the works.
His will be the first International Space Station mission since David Saint-Jacques’ Soyuz flight there in 2018-19. Canada receives flight opportunities roughly every six years now under the ISS agreement, which sees our country contribute Canadarm2 and Dextre robotics in exchange for astronaut seats on a 2.3% basis.
Fellow agency astronaut Jenni Gibbons will serve as backup for the Artemis 2 moon mission in 2024, ready to step in should prime CSA astronaut Jeremy Hansen no longer be available for medical or similar reasons. Hansen was only announced for the round-the-moon mission in April this year, making 2023 a big moment for Canadian space announcements.
“Canada is proud of space,” Gibbons said during a press conference here at CSA headquarters in Longueuil, Que. “It is on our money,” she added, referring to the Canadarm2 and Canadian astronaut featured on the $5 bill (an announcement made while then-CSA astronaut Chris Hadfield was in space in 2012-13.)
Kutryk said he is excited to continue the long work of research on the ISS, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary of launch this week. “It is the place where we push the boundaries of what is possible,” he said.
He brings considerable experience to bear with Starliner as he has been integrated with the training for many years. He expects to be capcom on the first test mission with astronauts, which is expected to happen as soon as next mid-year if the program goes to plan. But Starliner has been delayed by technology development issues in recent months, such as problems with the parachute system. Still, NASA has said in recent weeks it is ready to go early in 2024 as far as both Boeing (the maker) and NASA officials can tell.
The announcement at CSA was attended by roughly 200 people and was introduced by the minister responsible for the agency: François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry of Canada.
While the astronaut announcements have been notable, that’s not all the CSA has worked on lately. The MDA Radarsat Constellation mission will receive an additional satellite and a new generation is in the works, the agency announced a few weeks ago. Canada is also planning to update its older launching guidelines to support space launch attempts, most especially Maritime Launch Services’ in Canso, Nova Scotia.
The agency is also completing two challenges to study deep space food and deep space technology for health purposes, and the entrants may be eligible for future funding opportunities. While this fall’s economic update had no new space funding, the CSA did receive additional money in the 2023-4 budget including a commitment to fly to the ISS through 2030 and a new lunar utility vehicle.
Canada is a partner in the Artemis Accords, led by NASA. The partners commit both to a set of space exploration practices under the American agency and some of those partners are also working actively on moon missions. Canadarm3 will serve NASA’s Gateway space station, and should be operational at the facility around the moon later in the 2020s if current schedules hold.
Canada’s astronaut program has been active since the first selection in 1983, with more than a dozen agency astronauts flying on the space shuttle, the Soyuz spacecraft and the International Space Station in the years since. Some Canadians have also flown to space via the NASA astronaut program, while others have paid for their own seats on the ISS or on Axiom Space, the latter of which runs short-term missions to the ISS under SpaceX Crew Dragon missions.