The Canadian Space Agency Readies Next Five Years of AO’s in Space Science

Credit: SpaceQ/Canadian Space Agency.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) recently released its roadmap of research opportunities in space science between 2022 and 2027.

The posting is essentially a predictive schedule of when announcements of opportunities (AO) will be available in the next half-decade, to allow the community to plan projects. You can see full details of the AO here on the CSA website.

The first application deadline is coming up shortly: Dec. 22, 2022 at 4 p.m. EST. It will award five projects a three-year grant valued at $75,000 annually, across four priority areas: atmospheric and Earth-system science, Lunar Gateway/Artemis science and technology utilization, planetary exploration and space astronomy (2 grants) and solar-terrestrial science.

“This is a combination of initiatives that we had been running separately between our space utilization branch and space exploration branch over the past number of years,” Tim Haltigin, CSA’s manager of planetary exploration and astronomy missions, told SpaceQ. 

“The primary difference is that we’re just simply unifying and uniting the opportunities together to make sort of a one-stop shop for the community to have one place to go and look for the opportunities that are being advertised,” he added, noting that the new AO series also makes things easier on the evaluation side as it “streamlines some of our internal processes in terms of approvals and reviews.”

Indeed, there will be opportunities once a year in 2023, 2024, 2025 and 2026 and the application deadlines and anticipated project portfolios are already posted for those cycles. Eligible recipients include Canadian universities and post-secondary institutions, who may receive up to $225,000 per project across three years. The estimated total amount of the AO series will be $16.5 million.

The CSA says the AOs are meant to “take advantage of research opportunities in space science missions and projects” in three broad categories: (1) scientific co-investigator opportunities with international space missions and projects (2) participation opportunities in space missions and projects through external agreements to CSA (3) research opportunities based upon openly accessible Canadian space science data. 

There is also a long list of ineligible missions available under Appendix B that fall outside the mandate of the AO, including missions like the James Webb Space Telescope, Aqua, Terra, Curiosity (Mars Science Laboratory) and the CSA microrover, to name just a few.

Haltigen said the strategy in excluding those missions is to broaden opportunity and to provide CSA support external to those missions that already have agency or other Canadian government funding attached. 

“There’s other missions that the CSA doesn’t play a role but Canadians – by virtue of their expertise, and their recognition internationally – have been invited specifically to participate on individual missions. This is an opportunity for the CSA to support those scientists to be able to participate on the science teams of those other international missions.”

Another way in which the CSA is seeking to broaden opportunity is by restricting applicants, specifically by excluding researchers who are already funded by the CSA for participation directly on another mission. Also, any lead researcher awarded an AO in this series can only hold one of those grants at a time. There are many nuances to what constitutes participation in a mission, however, so do check the AO for more details on what is allowed.

And here is what the CSA hopes the AO will bring to the space community:

  • Advancements of science and technology through space research and development;
  • Increasing Canadian participation in missions relevant to the priorities of the CSA, but in which the CSA is not currently directly involved;
  • Enabling research relevant to CSA priorities through Canadian researchers that have secured agreements external to the CSA necessary for the proposed work;
  • Increased use of data acquired and/or processed with CSA support;
  • Increased number of scientists with PhDs in Canada who also have experience in space mission science operations activities and data analysis.

Haltigen emphasized that the AO process change was done after consultation with the academic community, who reiterated for years “how important these grants are.” By publishing the expected deadlines and putting the AO across five separate competitions, he said, the aim is to make the funding application cycle “more regular and more predictable.”

“Some of the take-home messages: these are aligned with the scientific goals of the agency. We’re promoting Canadian participation on international missions. We’re highlighting Canadian expertise. We’re responding to the needs of the community. We’re also, I think … aligned with some of the principles of open science and open data.”

About Elizabeth Howell

Is SpaceQ's Associate Editor as well as a business and science reporter, researcher and consultant. She recently received her Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota and is communications Instructor instructor at Algonquin College.

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