CSA President MacLean Makes the Case for Canada in Space (Part 4)

Commercial Satellites
So, now another metric on this that we are doing well, in that we are a country that drives innovation with our programmatic spending, is the fact that on four out of five commercial satellites in the world, there are Canadian components. And that is probably one of the best metrics that we can give about our success and about how we are driving innovation.

Now this collaboration and cooperation, we can’t just restrict it to the international stage. We need to concern ourselves with it locally as well. And so 50 years ago, we were able to create a satellite out of thin air because – it probably works because we’re small. But we can put academia, industry and government scientists together very, very quickly in a tiger team and pull something like that off. And so it’s this local cooperation which is as important as the fact that we can leverage the international cooperation.
Now just like how it works internationally, these relationships are based on a straightforward formula and it often begins with the Canadian Space Agency, but the way I like to look at it and the way I see it, as someone who is trying to lead the cart with the wheels all going in the same direction. It’s what you have to do is you have to look within industry, academia and government and find out where the smartest guy is in a particular area. And forget all the rules about procurement with industry and procurement with academia. If the smartest guy is inside the government, you back him. If the smartest guy is inside academia, you back him and you make it work. And often the smartest guy is in industry and it’s a little bit easier to back the guy in industry with the way the government is thinking today, but you can be creative and back somebody in government and back somebody in academia. It’s very important to do that.
So it basically goes like this. A challenge is identified, we tell academia what we’re thinking, how the results of the collaborative effort will be used, what spinoffs might pass to our space industry, what policies might result and how Canadians will benefit. Once we clear all those hurdles, we provide the financial resources to get the job started and it’s harder to imagine a greater return on investment. When we work with the university institutions here, for every dollar the CSA spends you’re leveraging four dollars from the university in infrastructure. In fact three of the universities in Canada are one third the size of the Canadian Space Agency and recognizing that that’s where the talent is – there’s 269 researchers in those three universities dedicated to space – if you coordinate that properly, you’re driving innovation.
And next in line is the space industry. We ask can you build it? Will it fly? All the normal questions. Can you make it cost effective? Are there practical applications down the road and once again, will it benefit Canadians? When the answer to all those questions is yes, you end up with a MOPITT, a Canadarm and a James Webb sensor to guide that telescope. The contribution from Canada’s academic sector can’t be overlooked or overstated. It can’t be overstated. It’s impressive.
Now over the last 50 years, it has given us the critical mass of intellectual capital, research infrastructure and qualified people we need to perform research in space. And again I will say it probably works because we’re small. We are a small country. Now our space industry can also take a bow. Canada’s space program literally owes its success to the innovations that are within the space industry. You know how our synthetic aperture radar works is from something called the reciprocity theorem and there everyone had this idea to use synthetic aperture radar, but they couldn’t get it to work. And it’s our industry in Canada – in fact it’s an individual in Canada who figure out how to make that work. And as soon as that was solved, away we go and Canada – we ended up sharing our expertise with Europe again because we didn’t have enough money to do it on ourselves, so Europe actually launched the first synthetic aperture radar satellite with our technology, but we, I think, still lead in that area and RADARSAT 2 that’s up there right now is the most complex radar satellite flying today. So as in any good partnership, the industry has benefitted from this collaboration as well.
So let me just list what Canada is good at, what we’re internationally recognized for. These are the niche markets that over the last 25 to 30 years we have cornered. It’s spaceflight robotics, radar satellites, space optics, space science instruments, and the critical components for communication satellites. Now industry’s decision to focus on these niche markets is a direct result of Canada’s involvement in these international space missions. So it’s allowed them to do that. That in turn has influenced Canada’s contribution to the global space activities and market. It’s also helped to sustain the Canadian space industry and often in the face of very intense international competition and I will say that’s not always easy. Canada’s space industry generates an incredible variety of innovative assets and products and services while providing high quality jobs. We have over 200 industries in Canada working in space. Again, that’s a large number for a small country. And spread across the country, our budget, 424 million per year right now – we’ll see what it is after the cuts but it’s 424 million – is supporting well over 8,000 workers in Canada. And together we’re generating 3.4 billion dollars; 50 percent of that is exports and it’s this critical mass that allows us to give us the jurisdiction over what we do and also the control of the technologies we have that are vital to where we’re going in the future.
This is still the Alouette model that we’re using and as successful as that Alouette model has been for industry, academia in the country as a whole, we do recognize that the playing field is changing dramatically. We all know what’s happening economically. We can see what’s happening technically with the speed, the process of the shifts that are taking place. Things are happening at breakneck speed. We have to keep pace and we do understand that we can’t stand still. Today, the number of countries eager to share in the potential benefits, the emerging space nations, it will roll your socks down, what’s happening out there. Brazil, China, India. China is spending more in resources than NASA. I was just there. If you stand on their mission control in their – they have a space application city of 200,000 people. They have a metrological city of 66,000 people. If you stand on their mission control and look out, all you have to do is add Yuri Gagarin’s statue and you’d think you’re in Moscow. Because they have just taken the blueprint and Russia’s done this in a cooperative way. They’ve taken the blueprint for the Russian space program and made it theirs. It’s incredibly impressive what they’re doing. India’s budget is doubling and will triple by next year. Italy’s budget – now in Europe it’s a little different. Italy, Spain, Greece, their budgets – well Spain and Greece – they’ve tanked. Italy’s budget is suffering but France and Germany, they continue to increase their space budgets by 5 or 6 percent. You have to recognize that they understand that space is important to the fabric of society and they’re continuing to do that.
The New Space Race
So in the next 10 to 20 years alone, we can expect a new space race. We really are at a crossroads and I think a new race is coming, one that’s focused probably solely on serving the priorities of each of the countries involved. And if we take that approach, I think it will happen. The prediction – we have 70 earth observation satellites up there right now. The prediction is that we will have 300 in 10 years and in fact on the planning sheets right now are 280. So to succeed in this bold new role, Canada must revisit the nature and the way we’re working and what the relationships are with others. Our approach to collaboration and partnership must evolve because the world in which we function, it really is evolving. We also believe the change must begin at home inside our own academia, our own industry and our own government labs. Now one thing is certain, if Canada is to sustain and enhance its space capacity, we have to continue to attract the best.
Now what I find interesting about what I mentioned at the beginning, where it’s ideas, talent, collaboration and capital, if you’re a student today who’s looking to do a PhD and you want to go work somewhere, where do you go? You go where the ideas are good. You go where you’re going to be in a talented group. You go where the network is good, where you can work together and you go where there’s support. If we focus on our students and educate them well, it’s natural that they end up driving innovation and this is a huge focus for us in Canada. Since I’ve come in, I’ve got all kinds of bridging techniques to get the brightest and the best to stay in Canada and not go south of the border or across to Europe. And my biggest fear in these budget cuts is if the space agency gets hurt a lot, we’re going to lose that and we’ll see what happens. Is there media in the room? Thank you. I have to think now. Okay. Anyways, there is fierce competition for talent. There really is and we have to work hard to keep it and every country needs to do the same thing. And it’s not just between countries. It’s across research disciplines. There’s a lot of exciting things happening in the world and if you want to get the best and the brightest, you have to offer those four things in a meaningful way.
Now there are some things we can do and in the Canadian Space Agency we are doing that. Like we are working together with the granting agencies to try and make them more efficient with a component that focuses on what’s important to us. We are establishing clusters so that people can work together so the three universities that I’ve talked about that are the top three in Canada have clustered together so that they’re a stronger force. Now we can also establish programs that increase the pace for students and so we have – I’ve reinvigorated the Sounding Rocket Program and the Balloon Program in Canada and what that does, in one year we can get 32 instruments on board those vehicles and the total cost for that is just a few million dollars. So if you consider that you’ve got five or six students associated with each instrument, it’s starts to go non-linear over the years. So it’s something that’s very important to do. These platforms, they cost less, they’re less risky, you go single string, you don’t care if they fail. The whole idea is to train the next generation and plus the smartest guys I have met in my business cut their teeth on a Balloon or on a Sounding Rocket Program and that’s because it afforded them the opportunity to be hands-on in a major way.
So in this area as well, we’re going to focus – and there’s a reason for it, is that I expect that the small satellite trend will accelerate and by working single string on the balloons and sounding rockets, you’ve got to make things smaller, you’ve got to make things more efficient, Canada will develop its capacity and will be leading in this area if this works properly. But in the end our success in developing that talent will still depend on that one tried and treated formula, collaboration and that we’ve been talking about. The Alouette model still holds true. And only by working with our international partners can we give this new generation of researchers the space missions they need to hone their skills.
Now Canada’s space industry too, they are aware that the landscape is changing and they are changing how they’re thinking. Canada’s space sector generates about 50 percent exports and as more and more countries develop their programs and I’m talking about Brazil – we’re working closely with Argentina – but Brazil, Argentina, India, they need our expertise and if we handle it properly we should be able to increase the ratio of exports over the next little while across that fast paced emergence of those other countries.
Now we’re already at work to make this happen because we’re anticipating this. We’ve got long-term roadmaps that show – and I’m talking about technology roadmaps – so it’s not just we’re going to do this mission, then that mission and that mission – we have roadmaps that are it from a technology point of view, a component point of view, understanding what technology is involved across all those missions and what components are involved across all those missions. So you need to think two ways. You need to think from coming from above, what policy is driving with respect to the priorities of the country and are you meeting the priorities of the country and then you need to think from below, across basically your supply chain. What is your supply chain capable of doing and it’s at that mix where you’re going to drive innovation and a mix isn’t always there. There can be a priority that we’re not good at and it’s smarter to get it offshore than to try and develop it and those decision I find are tough. That’s kind of a whole another talk actually.
Okay, so we’re going to implement these technology roadmaps through sustained technology development programs that are supportive of the industrial policies. And sustained is the key word here. We all know and it’s painful actually, it takes five to ten years to get a major satellite system into orbit. So when you decide to follow a certain technology path, you’ve got to know what you’re doing. You’ve got to have an understanding of that broad spectrum of what’s required to be successful in the business that we are in.
So we’re going to continue to expand Canada’s collaboration with Europe. We hope to improve our access to European markets and in addition we’re going to continue to contribute in space missions that use our niche technology. And there will be an emphasis on supporting small and medium companies. And here’s something that you’ve got to worry about – I didn’t know this until I got this job – when you’re dealing with a large company, they’re worried about balance sheet. When you’re dealing with a small company, they’re worried about cash flow. And the procurement mechanism in Canada – and I know, I’ve worked in the States for 15 years and I worked in Europe for a year and it’s the same problem there – the procurement mechanism isn’t suited to the small company handling its cash flow. It takes months to get something out the door. A large company can handle that. And so we have creative techniques that focus on the small and medium enterprise because all of the programs in the government, the SADI program and the SR&ED Tax, they serve to help the large companies and their – there’s media here – it’s hard for the small and medium programs. It’s something that we really need to think about.
And so, I think the last thing is that we’ll put our money, no matter how limited in these difficult economic times, into developing those technologies that are priority. And I want to be sort of obvious here. We going to be proactive about this. It doesn’t matter whether you have 400 million, a billion or two billion, you’ve got to be proactive, you’ve got to pave the way yourself even though you’re a small partner and you don’t sit on the sidelines and wait and see what someone else does, even though you’re not driving what’s going to happen in the next big stage in exploration. Maybe we do a little bit, but it takes money to do that. So, we’re going to play this game and we have to play that game because if we don’t, we won’t be there at the end of the day. And the fact here is that the government of Canada’s own space capacity is a part of the entire country’s space capacity. And again the 400 million we have are just leveraging what’s really going on.
So space enables us to advance a broad range of public policy objectives and they are territorial sovereignty, environmental monitoring, safety and security, important sectors to our economy – like the important sectors of our economy, banking, finance, transportation, telecommunications and agriculture rely more and more on space technology. I just gave a talk in the other room about an hour ago where I talked about precision agriculture. We can change the yields by using space-based information against the GPS grid by 35 to 80 percent and if we did it in Saskatchewan to grain farms and we did it on a potato field in PEI – this is data, this is not speculation about what you can do if you space-based data to drive agriculture – .if 50 percent of the farmers adopted it tomorrow and we’ve got three quarters of the assets up there now to do this and the yields were only 20 percent, it is still a fair percentage of GDP. It’s billions of dollars. Canada’s GDP is 13 percent agriculture. It is phenomenal what we can do if we turn that into being operational.
So you take all this together. Okay the government of Canada faces several challenges right now and in part we can thank the financial community for that. But we are coping with an increased demand for space data, space knowledge in an economy that is very difficult. So we have to make every dollar count in this tough economy. And the CSA is committed to finding ways to meet those emerging challenges. We are constantly consulting with the fellow departments and agencies in terms of how we’re serving their mandates and they’ve ask for our assistance in a number of areas. I’ve just finished a two-year consultation process where I talked to every single university. It was round tables. Talked to every single government department. We have 14 that work with us, 6 that help fund and I talked to all the captains of the space industry in Canada and this is where they’ve asked for our assistance. One, integrated ground infrastructures to enhance the reception sharing integration cataloguing and preservation of space data. Two, greater access to international space data and services and three, continuous broadband communication over the arctic, not only for security and sovereignty but for connecting arctic communities and handle large volumes of data that we need to get to the mining, mineral and exploration companies that in the summer dot the map in a major way with respect to the exploration that’s going on up there every single summer. The idea is to bring that spaced-based infrastructure to the north and you will not only make all those operations efficient, you will make them safe. We had two tankers and one cruiser that hit shoals this past summer and we had three aircraft crashes this past summer. Why? Because we don’t have the infrastructure and the modern vector following for those aircraft that you have down south and it does get to that, every single crash by the way.
So, we can make it safer and more operationally efficient if we do that. So the only way to get all this done is through collaboration and partnership. We’ll have to tweak the formula to respect the changing – the demands of the changing world, but this basic approach is the same approach we used 50 years ago and in short we’re going to a Team Canada approach to space, one that includes this coordination I’ve been talking about between industry, government and academia and obviously that same cooperation between those three is how we’re working internationally. I feel that we remain committed to pushing the frontiers of science. Again, I kind of have shown you the dichotomy of that instrument world and the academic world. They sound like they’re separate, they’re not. We have a vibrant academic community across the data that we provide from space.
So succeed in doing all that and I’m confident that Canada will achieve its national goal of providing knowledge and space-based technologies that meet the needs of Canadians. And a way to say it is space today, not only is it an essential fabric of our community, it’s an essential element of government infrastructure. Thank you very much.
I don’t know if anybody has any question or…? I’m happy to answer a couple of questions.
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Continue to part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4

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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