Growth in Space Utilization to Benefit Canadians

He didn’t once mention the term “geomatics,” but that is certainly what Canadian Space Agency (CSA) President Steve MacLean was referencing when he said that data obtained about the Earth from space “now has the precision to contribute meaningfully to Earth based activities” such as resource tracking, mining, farming and industry. MacLean made the comment during his keynote address at the University of Toronto Space Program on March 1st.

The two day event was organized through the office of Professor Paul Young, the VP of research at the the University of Toronto and focused on “Canada’s Space Program – Current and Future Prospects” but MacLean addressed other themes as well in his keynote. These included how to generate new commercial applications from space focused activities, understanding and sustaining the global environment, facilitating space travel and exploring the cosmos.
However, Dr. MacLean’s specific focus this day was on the use of Earth observation satellites and technology such as RADARSAT, SCISAT (which make observations of the Earth’s atmosphere), MOPITT (an instrument flying on NASA’s EOS Terra spacecraft which measures global concentrations of tropospheric carbon monoxide) and others to gather, store, process and deliver geographic or spatially referenced information about the Earth.
In an interview after his address, Dr. MacLean noted that Canada is in the forefront of these activities and must continue pursuing them in order to effectively commercialize scientific research and development into useful tools for government and industry. Geographic data collected by Earth observation satellites can increase crop yields, inventory natural resources and track human activities.
These are all references to the field formally known as geomatics and Canada has indeed been in the forefront, almost since the term was first coined by Canadians in the late 1960’s (apparently because it sounded the same in both official languages). The recent increased visibility of geomatics has been made possible by advances in computer technology, software engineering, and data collected via airborne and space observation using remote sensing technologies.
Currently about 36% of the CSA budget is allocated to space utilization but MacLean hopes to get that increased to 51%. Dr. MacLean noted that how difficult it was to take the research idea to an operational idea and said “it is phenomenal to me how difficult it is to sell an idea when the idea is very good“. He was referencing buy-in on the part of some farmers on the obvious benefits of the use of the data collected by Canada’s earth observation satellites.
Although he’s a strong advocate of further Earth observation satellite launches and commercial activities, Dr. MacLean is almost philosophical about the ongoing launch delays often associated with Canadian satellites.
According to Dr. MacLean, launch delays are the inevitable result of dealing with disparate universities, scientists and satellite contractors using a variety of funding mechanism trying to get everything right, with only one opportunity, and it is common right across the industry. “It’s not normally that big a big deal when Canadian satellites are delayed.” he said.
Recent launch delays include Cassiope, originally scheduled to have been launched in Q3 of 2008 but now scheduled no earlier that the end of 2011 and the Near Earth Object Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat), which is now expected to launch sometime in early 2012 after numerous delays.
When asked if the recently conducted CSA studies on the potential of indigenous small satellite launchers will ever be released or utilized, Dr. MacLean states that “We’re not finished with those reports yet. This is one of many studies commissioned to make sure we understood what our country is capable of doing. We need to assess those results and come up with a plan to utilize our Canadian expertise in the fullest way possible.” The second of the two commissioned studies was completed just over a year ago.
Dr. MacLean also confirmed that the only upcoming Canadian astronaut mission to the International Space Station (ISS) presently scheduled is Chris Hadfield who currently training for his long duration stay on board the ISS in 2012-2013 where he will become the first Canadian to command the station.
Edited by Marc Boucher.

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