Last week in space for Canada was all about reacting to the final release of the Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee (“The Augustine Report”) and next week in space for Canada is likely to focus on the Canadian Science Policy Conference, being held in Toronto from October 28th – 30th but that leaves a gap this week where we can provide a brief history of Canadian space activities and develop a little bit of context for some of the choices that were made in the past and could be made today.
With the launch of Alouette 1 in 1962 Canada became the third country to put a man-made satellite into space. However, we then almost immediately decided to narrow our activities so that today we focus primarily on the fields of communications and remote sensing, mostly because of a gentleman named John Chapman (1921-1979) who was senior author of a 1967 report entitled “Upper Atmosphere and Space Programs in Canada.”
This document, now known as the Chapman Report, recommended using Canadian satellites for communications and resource management and this eventually became the Canadian blueprint for space exploration for which we developed an industry focused around telecommunications and remote sensing.
There were many sensible and logical reasons for Chapman and the Canadian government to take the approach they did to space exploration in the 1960’s. At the time, Canada was a huge country with very few services to tie citizens together. There was no phone service outside of a narrow band within 100 miles of the US border and no real inventory of natural resources. In essence, there were identifiable problems requiring solutions so Canada used the Chapman report as a template to go about solving them.
The need for a northern telecommunication system led to the creation of Telesat, today a highly profitable private company and world leader in satellite communication. The Canadian inventory of our national resources (today wrapped up in issues or arctic sovereignty and national security) is ongoing and perhaps still awaiting resolution.
When the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) was established under the Canadian Space Agency Act in 1989, the Chapman Report continued to form the basis of ongoing Canadian space activities as policy was updated through a succession of what the CSA called “Long Term Space Plans” to the last formal policy document titled “The Canadian Space Strategy” completed in 2003.
The core thrust of the 2003 report was still for the CSA to continue to emphasize Earth observation and satellite communication along with space science and “exploration”.
And yet our communications problems are essentially solved. Telesat maintains more satellites in orbit than the CSA and they’re all focused on telecommunications. Telesat is one of a number of international communications satellite operators and it’s reasonable to ask if “satellite communications” should reasonably remain an area where CSA is publicly stating that it is devoting resources.
Perhaps we could talk more explicitly about robotics (an area of acknowledged Canadian expertise) in the next policy update, or focus more resources on remote sensing or maybe even find a new problem needing CSA resources for a solution?
Perhaps global warming or solar power transmission…
Industry leaders had anticipated that when Steve MacLean became head of the CSA in September 2008 an updated Canadian Space policy document would be available within a few months but this has so far not happened.
Present industry consensus seems to be that an update will likely not become available as long as Canada retains the present minority government which has addressed the issues surrounding the development of a dedicated space policy only tangentially in their 2007 publication “Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage.”
But of course, that’s part of the discussion for next week.