New Canadian Space Strategy Not Ready – Exclusive

Budget 2018 .Credit: SpaceQ.

There’s a reason Budget 2018 didn’t include any significant funding or major new programs the space community wanted. The government says “more work needs to be done” on developing a long-term strategy. 

Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) response

SpaceQ reached out to ISED and asked the Ministry what the time frame would be to unveil a new space strategy. A spokesperson provided SpaceQ with this unedited response;

“Space is a critical part of Canada’s infrastructure and a strategic sector of our economy so it is important that we take the time necessary to get this right. Our government renewed the Space Advisory Board to consult with Canadians on Canada’s future in space, and undertake an analysis of the sector.

The results of these public consultations have been released in the report ‘Consultations on Canada’s Future in Space: What We Heard‘. We continue to consider the results of these consultations.

The feedback received, along with ongoing counsel from the Space Advisory Board continues to inform the government’s work on a vision for the space sector and future planning.

The CSA will continue its current programs and remain engaged in forward looking planning for future missions and activities. In the context of the funding levels announced and the plan to develop a long-term strategy, more work needs to be done as we move forward with future planning.

SpaceQ also asked what the Minister’s message would be to the community regarding the expectations from Budget 2018.

“Innovation and science are critical drivers of economic growth. That is why the government’s Innovation and Skills Plan that clearly articulates our policies, and makes important investments that will help businesses.

Budget 2018 proposes funding that will be available to the space sector, including the announced funding of $100 million over five years for the Strategic Innovation Fund, with a particular focus on supporting projects that relate to low Earth orbit satellites.

As noted, 2018 will be an exciting year for Canada in space. Astronaut David Saint-Jacques will travel to the International Space Station for a six-month stay. We will see the launch of the next-generation RADARSAT Constellation Mission. Launched in 2016, the OSIRIS-Rex mission will reach asteroid Bennu this year. OSIRIS-Rex has a Canadian-made laser altimeter that will provide precision topographical data, helping to enable the return an asteroid sample back to Earth.

Canada’s space sector develops new technologies and innovations that have the potential to improve the lives of Canadians. This government is committed to working with the sector to ensure that it continues to be innovative, productive and successful in export markets, and a source of high-quality jobs and wealth for Canadians. In addition, Budget 2017 announced over one billion dollars in the creation of the Strategic Innovations Fund as well as the Innovation Superclusters Initiative. Both will continue to attract and support new high quality investments in a number of sectors including space.

The space sector is also an important contributor to enhancing Canada’s science excellence. Our space scientists have made important discoveries in areas such as astronomy and contribute to monitoring and understanding climate change.”

What does this all mean?

When a draft of a proposed new space strategy was circulated last summer the reaction from some key people within the space community was negative. Based on the initial feedback, the government decided to hold-off from releasing a new space strategy. The expectation at first was to make an announcement in late summer or fall so that the strategy be”action-oriented”, that being funding for some program(s). That didn’t happen and the expectation then became to have something ready to coincide with Budget 2018.

Now, 16 months after the November 2016 announcement by ISED Minister Bains that a new space strategy would be forthcoming in June 2017, the space community still waits.

Why? What’s changed?

Budget 2018 did include a significant commitment to the science community. The last two budgets have also included significant commitments to an innovation strategy. Taken together, they do provide mechanisms for some within the space community to take advantage of. However, it does not address the need of a long-term space strategy and funding of initial program(s) to go with it. That is something everyone withing the space community agrees needs to happen.

There is at least one external factor that appears to have contributed to a delay. The ongoing uncertainty in the U.S. space program. Like it or not, right or wrong, the government is taking a wait an see approach to what happens in the U.S.

NASA has been rudderless, without an approved Administrator since the election of the Trump government in November 2016. And now, Acting Administrator Lightfoot is retiring at the end of the month. Yes, there is a new Space Council in place led by Vice-President Pence, but the dynamics between the White House, the Council and Congress are mired in backroom politicking with no cohesive strategy forthcoming.

Does Canada need to wait for the U.S. picture to clear up before making any plans? Are we that dependent on their strategy?

Canada is a top 10 economic power in the world. Our economy, according to the International Monetary Fund, is ranked 10th for gross domestic product (GDP) and is 17th for the estimated gross domestic product based on purchasing power parity (PPP).  We have the clout, the economy to set our own path. Of course we will, and should work, with other nations on large space projects, but that does not mean we can’t create and fund a path now that has flexibility in it.

For too long now Canadian governments have been timid. Not since the early days of the Canadian Space Agency has a government taken any risks with respect to the space program.

Canada’s economy is larger than South Korea and Russia by GDP, yet both countries have larger budgets for their space programs. South Korea in particular in 2015 planned on increasing its budget by 20% “to secure a new growth engine” for their economy. India has pulled ahead of Canada in GDP and in space competitiveness. What’s next? Will Australia and its soon to be created national space agency surpass Canada? That may seem far-fetched but with the ongoing apathy by the successive governments over the last 10 plus years, it could happen.

Optics and the future workforce

Shortly after Budget 2018 the Prime Minister participated “in an armchair discussion with Bill Nye highlighting Budget 2018 investments in Canadian innovation” on March 6. Much has been made of the discussion which focused on the science and innovation aspects of the budget. Mainstream media latched onto the Kinder Morgan pipeline issue Nye brought up. We focused on the not-so-subtle remarks by Nye on the Canadian space program. But one important fact didn’t get much scrutiny. What the heck was the Prime Ministers Office doing when it agreed to have the Prime Minister sit down with an American about Canada’s new budget, and in particular what some called a “historic” commitment to science? Seriously, could they have not brought in Canada’s recent Nobel Prize winning physicist Arthur B. McDonald, or anyone else that was Canadian!

The optics of this event are bad no matter what good was in it.

But optics of this event isn’t what really matters. What matters is how other nations see Canada, and in this case, Canada’s space program. The optics on that are a nation content to rest on its laurels and to provide basic, but diminishing direct support.

There’s also the optics of how students in universities today see government support. The signal the government continues to send with respect to the space program is such that many will leave Canada to work in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Budget 2018 reaction from stakeholders

Over the last few weeks SpaceQ has spoken with many stakeholders in the space community including large and small businesses. Some would only talk off the record, while others were more forthcoming and we also asked for statements from several organizations. The reaction to the budget from nearly 100% of them though was disappointment. Only Telesat was pleased, though as you’ll read, they to are pushing for government action on a long-term plan with funding.

The biggest surprise came from the Minister’s appointed Space Advisory Board.

Lucy Stojak, Chair of the Space Advisory Board, sent out an email to stakeholders. It read in part;

“As you know, the Federal Budget was released on Tuesday, February 27, 2018. Needless to say that the Space Advisory Board (SAB) Members were very disappointed with Budget 2018 as it did not include funding to address a space strategy.”

“In the context of the Board’s report, Consultations on Canada’s Future in Space: What We Heard, we pointed to the need for urgent action to reverse the decline in Canada’s space capability. We were hoping the Government would signal specific measures to advance long-term plans and priorities for Canada in space. Despite the lack of signal, Space Advisory Board Members remain convinced that Canada needs a vision and investments in space to meet national needs and fulfill its aspirations.”

The Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) consulted with its members and late last week provided SpaceQ with a statement from Jim Quick, President and CEO.  The official statement did not pull any punches and was very direct.

“We’re very disappointed that the budget did not contain any long-term plan for Canada’s future in space. All around the world, countries are investing in their space programs and industries, making sure that they’re ready to take advantage of all of the social and economic opportunities that space generates. That’s not happening in Canada. For decades we have been a global space leader, but without a long-term plan, we risk losing it all. That’s why we have worked closely and collaboratively with the government and the Space Advisory Board for well over a year to develop a vision and strategy for Canada’s future in space. This strategy must be implemented as soon as possible, and that continues to be our focus.”

The Canadian Space Commerce Association sent out a newsletter with its reaction. It read in part;

“Last week the Canadian Federal Government released the 2018-2019 Budget. The Canadian Space Commerce Association (“CSCA”) is disappointed that the Budget did not reflect the urgent need to develop a vision for Canada’s long term space strategy (the “Strategy”). For the past 10 days we have been hearing from you and feeding back that information to the appropriate sources.”
“While Budget 2018-2019 did not include what we expected, particularly after one year of collaborative active feedback and 10 years of deficient government space spending, we remain confident that a Strategy is forthcoming. The Strategy is necessary in order to outline the priorities for the Canadian space sector, which will give investors confidence, innovators collaborative guidance and entrepreneurs opportunities to obtain backing from private sector.”

The Canadian Space Society President Damya Souami, Ph.D sent SpaceQ this statement;

“The Canadian Space Society  (CSS), like many space advocates, are disappointed with the lack of specific committments to space in the most recent federal budget proposal.  To address this, the CSS is moving ahead with one of its key objectives identified in the society’s strategic review conducted last year, and we will soon be announcing the formation of a Space Policy Committee composed of CSS members.  The committee will conduct teleconferences and annual meetings to discuss Canadian space policy and publish an annual position paper.”

We also heard from a few large companies that would go on the record including MDA and Telesat.

Mike Greenley, the new Group President of MDA said;

“The budget provided a welcome initial allocation of support to next generation LEO satellite systems to address rural and remote communications, and we look forward to further government collaboration with Canadian industry as these multi-billion dollar initiatives progress in the marketplace. In addition, we continue to seek a clear indication of support from the government of a funded Space Strategy for Canada to ensure the sustainment of our nation’s role in the international community’s continued advancement of space exploration and the maturation of the emerging new space economy. The economic benefits to Canada from the Canadian Space industry are measured in the billions of dollars, and thousands of high technology jobs, while the sector contributes strong socially responsible outcomes for Canada in areas such as communications, environment, climate change, transportation, natural resources, national security, disaster management, agriculture, healthcare, and STEM education.”

While Telesat’s, Dan Goldberg, President and CEO said;

“Telesat was pleased to see the Government of Canada’s investment of $100 million in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite constellations for rural broadband communications. Canada is fortunate to have a world-class domestic space capability to build and operate these systems and this is an example of the right kind of investment which can help reverse the decline of Canada’s space sector capabilities over the last decade. With further investment and a long-term plan, the space sector can continue to play a vital role in the Canadian economy, spurring innovation, creating STEM jobs and contributing to economic growth. As such, we encourage the government to pursue and publish a long-term, funded national space policy for Canada as it recently did for the defence sector. This will ensure that this important sector can remain globally competitive, viable and relevant for the foreseeable future.” In regard to satellite communications, Mr. Goldberg added “a domestic satellite communications capability is absolutely necessary for Canada. Bridging long geographic divides to deliver connectivity and services to Canadians regardless of where they live is crucial to growing the economy and supporting Canadians in their everyday lives from education to health care. Faced with increasing activity and interest in the Arctic, it is also necessary to protect and exercise national sovereignty.”

Small businesses and Budget 2018

Small businesses have a slightly different attitude to Budget 2018 and the space program. For some, they said the budget doesn’t affect their business plans at the moment. Others, were just plain upset.

James Slifierz, CEO of SkyWatch went on the record and said “without a long-term space strategy in place, I didn’t have any space-related expectations for the budget. One hopes the strategy defines what is needed in the budget, and not vice versa. As an industry I think it’s important we focus on crafting that long-term strategy.”

James has a valid point. But after the latest in a series of consultations over the years, you would think the government has enough data and input to put forward a coherent strategy.

Yet another apathetic government

The government can spin the budget anyway it wants. It can praise the space community all it wants. It can be vocal with its support all it wants. Action, that’s what’s needed, not more words. That’s what the space community is telling SpaceQ.

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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