The Canadian Space Agency asked this question of hundreds of delegates last week, with the virtual Canadian Space Exploration Workshop (CSEW) 2022. Planning will need to come quickly in the months after this event.
The Government of Canada’s last space strategy was released in 2019, and it’s already a completely different world in space exploration. Stakeholders have told SpaceQ in the years since that the government needs a more cohesive national space policy, strategy and plan, although Canada has made great strides in enacting its Moon program and starting an Earth observation strategy.
Canadarm3 – Canada’s major contribution to the Artemis program – is now entering a Phase B contract with experienced roboticist MDA helming the design. The agency is also working on supporting private industry through the LEAP (Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program) and an independent project to put a Canadian rover on the moon later this decade.
But in the greater space world, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and Axiom Space have all run private spaceflights with non-professional astronauts. The Artemis program has added a cadre of nations seeking to join NASA on space exploration at the Moon and in other areas. Russia, a trusted partner in 2019, is now struggling in space partnerships after its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Canadian space projects are also seeing years of development come to fruition. The James Webb Space Telescope is poised to start operations in July after a near-flawless commissioning period in deep space; Canadians will get a guaranteed share of the science from the beginning due to our instrument contributions. The OSIRIS-REx mission should land next year with samples of asteroid Bennu, which again, Canadians will have access to thanks to our mission contributions.
CSEW aimed to focus on space exploration science and astronaut health, while also pushing forward a “sustained vision” for the Canadian planetary science and space astronomy communities. Of note, the Canadian Astronomical Society / Société Canadienne d’Astronomie (CASCA)’s decadal survey came out in late 2020 and was alluded to in the workshop as a framework for planning future astronomy work.
Delegates considered the near term (to 2032), medium term (2032-2040) and long term (2050 and beyond) in a series of workshops tackling these different topics, as well as after listening to plenary speeches on some of the main directions taken by the CSA in recent years.
Since the last CSEW was held in 2016, sustained work following that workshop into 2017 led to the publication of a community report that assisted the CSA in setting science and space priorities for the next decade, said Martin Bergeron, the CSA’s manager of planetary exploration and astronomy missions, during the opening of the workshop June 14.
“Holding true to our expected cadence of one such workshop every five years, we’re now back to the much anticipated updates on this critical report,” he said. A new report based on the 2022 CSEW is expected to further define where the community will go through 2050, he added.
“Previous reports have been widely used by the Canadian Space Agency as input to funding opportunities and decision making in nearly all our space exploration investments, so it’s time to thank you for participating to this important work,” Bergeron said.
Key plenaries of the first day included overviews of some of the major community milestones in recent years, citing information long in the public:
- U.S. National Academies Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics: A NASA Perspective – Eric P. Smith (NASA). This was released in 2021 and outlines the U.S. community priorities for astronomy and astrophysics. Its first suggested mission is an exoplanet-hunting telescope with infrared, optical and ultraviolet capabilities.
- Highlights of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) Decadal Survey on Planetary Sciences and Astrobiology – Barbara Sherwood Lollar (University of Toronto). This was released in May and identified a Uranus Orbiter and Probe as the top community priority.
- The European Space Agency (ESA) Voyage 2050 Presentation – Dr. Günther Hasinger. This refers to the next planning cycle of the European Space Agency, which is ongoing.
- ESA’s Terrae Novae 2030+ Strategy Roadmap – Dr. Sanjay Vijendran (ESA). This refers to the human exploration strategy of ESA, which like NASA, includes considerable investment in the Artemis program.