Moving the needle for Canadian space regulation and licensing

This is a Mosaic of Canada which is made from 121 images captured by Canadian satellite RADARSAT-2. Credit: Canadian Space Agency.

Changes to the space regulatory environment in Canada, including the Remote Sensing Space Systems Act (RSSSA), has and will continue to take time. To provide some insight into the process, we present the following update from Michelle Mendes from the Satellite Canada Innovation Network (SatCan) who was a member of the RSSSA Ad-Hoc Advisory Committee.

By Michelle Mendes (SatCan)

The Remote Sensing Space Systems Act Ad-Hoc Advisory Committee (the “Committee”) held its final meeting on April 20, 2022. Convened in October 2019, the Committee was to provide an external review of the previous 2017 Independent Review of the RSSSA, as well as facilitating brainstorming on possible future directions. 

The Committee was diverse, comprising a 15-member group which included persons from various departments of the Government of Canada, industry stakeholders, interest groups, and foreign remote sensing regulation experts.  It was co-chaired by both Global Affairs Canada (GAC) Non-Proliferation, Disarmament and Space Division Space Policy and Regulatory Section and the Institute of Air and Space Law of McGill University’s Faculty of Law (IASL). Industry representation included small, medium and large multinational organizations in Canada, while there was also participation from foreign experts and agencies whose involvement provided insights into foreign investment considerations and the adoption of best practices for regulatory and licensing regimes in Canada. 

The most impressive aspect was the whole of government approach demonstrated with the active participation of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), Natural Resources Canada, Department of National Defence, the Canadian Space Agency, National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program, and many (if not all) of the individuals that work in the GAC Policy, Licensing and Regulatory departments. 

The Committee was initially scheduled to meet for 6-12 months, lasting until November 2020. However, successful collaboration amongst the Committee members resulted in substantial progress on tangible and meaningful work, and with the agreement of all members, the Committee’s mandate was further extended. Some key early progress by the Committee was in the area of identifying a need for a more efficient licensing/regulatory environment, to enable better understanding by applicants and thus fostering the creation of a more competitive jurisdiction for the international market. 

The Committee provided detailed responses to each of the twenty recommendations of the 2017 Independent Review of the RSSSA. Further discussions on class exemptions, similar means of addressing regulatory and licensing between USA/Canada/other jurisdictions, Canadian Framework education initiatives, means and methods of further assessment of the sector, and many more topics. The minutes of the Committee meetings are public and can be accessed on the McGill International Air and Space Law site.


  1. GAC, with the input of the Committee, has already created the RSSSA Operating License Application Guide to give new operators an indication of what to expect and to provide step-by-step instructions. One of the key pieces of work undertaken by the GAC, with the input of the Committee, was the identification of “What Can be Done When.”
  1. The 2022 Independent Review of the Remote Sensing Space Systems Act (the “Report”) was commissioned and delivered providing guidance on future steps within the RSSSA licensing/regulatory regime with context within Canada’s “patchwork” of greater space policy.
  1. Reflective of GAC leadership, in what they consider a very important file, they availed themselves of an opportunity to Table the 2022 RSSSA Independent Review to Cabinet early on March 21, 2022. 

What’s next

The work noted above is only the beginning. GAC is currently working on an additional Series of Client Procedures Circulars (CPC)/Series of Guides which include a Framework Guide to explain Canada’s License and Regulatory environment. Plus an RSSSA Licensee Maintenance Guide is in production for those already licensed. It will assist those operators to determine future actions and reporting obligations.

Throughout this process, the GAC team worked tirelessly and diligently to provide the Committee with ample information to review, and such collaboration has been critical in helping achieve an excellent initial body of work.

One of the notable benefits from this series of consultations was in establishing an inclusive culture and environment for diverse groups of space industry stakeholders, garnering varying perspectives and engaging in open honest discussions on the RSSSA, thereby further providing a platform for concerns to be voiced and understood. The end result, is the beginning of an improved regulatory framework combined with a better understanding of the RSSSA and an enhanced Earth observation landscape for Canadian commerce, industry and Canadians. I am looking forward to more good news for the Canadian industry as this evolves.

Finally, Global Affairs Canada Non-Proliferation, Disarmament and Space Division Space Policy and Regulatory Section is eager to engage with any and all stakeholders. SatCan will be hosting a RSSSA update meeting in the coming months to provide an opportunity for stakeholders to give more guidance and input. Please contact [email protected] for further information on next steps.

Questions about Changing the Legislation

In general, some of the most asked questions by Canadian and international applicants were:

Why is the RSSSA not repealed or replaced?

Canada’s legislative system is very complex. It can take many years to amend or repeal and replace a law. This infographic can help explain.

If the RSSSA was not written for today’s situation, why use it?

Although RSSSA was written at a time when future technology evolutions were not yet conceived, there are useful principles of the legislation that have provided applicable regulatory guidelines. Adjusting practices by working openly and swiftly with licensees has been a key improvement. 

How can Canada compete in the international market with out-of-date legislation and no new legislation forthcoming? Meanwhile, technology continues to advance and opportunities are lost?

Given the limitations of the Act itself and the long road to changing or repealing it, GAC has identified processes that will provide a competitive process until the legislative landscape may be changed.  

How can GAC change when the legislation has not changed?

One of the key pieces of work undertaken by the Committee was the identification of “What Can be Done When” – short, medium, and long term solutions that are now actively pursued as an intermediary step to provide immediate benefits to users as legislative amendments are pursued.

Michelle Mendes BGS, FCIS, EMBA – Michelle is the President of Satellite Canada Innovation Network, specializes in the business, finance, and law; has worked globally on behalf of the United Nations COPUOS; sits on the board Board of C-Core and is on the Advisory Committee of (Western Space) Institute for Earth and Space Exploration. She sat on the Government of Canada Space Advisory Board (mandated until 2020) and on Global Affairs Canada RSSSA Ad-Hoc Advisory Committee. She holds a Bachelor of General Studies degree from Simon Fraser University, is a Fellow Chartered Secretary in Canada and UK, and holds an EMBA in Space Commerce from the International Space University in Strasbourg, France.

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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