Canadian space delivered a lot of high-profile missions this year, from low Earth orbit all the way to the Moon and even a Lagrange Point. Despite a decline in spending, the Canadian Space Agency financed Moon and Earth observation plans – and the Canadian military opened its own Space Force.
Private industry was also busy, with Telesat reconfiguring its Lightspeed constellation and Maritime Launch Services breaking ground on Canada’s first launch site in decades. Below are the top 10 stories of Canadian space in 2022.
While it took most of 2022 to get Artemis 1 off the ground, once NASA had resolved leaking issues with the new Space Launch System rocket and waited out two hurricanes, the mission lifted off well on Nov. 16. As planned, Artemis 1 went around the moon in a distant retrograde orbit and then returned back to Earth, the Orion spacecraft – on the second-ever flight of its type in space – safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 11.
In early 2023, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) will at last name the astronaut who will be flying aboard Artemis 2, which is the first crewed mission of the program. Artemis 2 will be the first of the series to fly a spacecraft with a life support system and for Canada, will represent the first time any individual has left low Earth orbit since the program began in 1983. Canada got that astronaut seat through its contributions to Gateway – more on that next.
The cornerstone of Canada’s contribution to the Artemis program is a new Canadarm3 robotic arm that will be installed upon the Gateway space station later in the decade, presuming schedules hold to plan. Gateway will be a multi-module space station in orbit around the moon and will serve as a support base for future surface missions. Canada’s robotic arm, built by MDA, will service the space station even at times when astronauts are not on board, and builds upon the Canadarm and Canadarm2 technology MDA inherited from Spar and the National Research Council.
Progress on Canadarm3 is continuing, but the biggest milestone of the year came in March when the CSA awarded the Phase B contract to MDA for $268.9 million. It’s a relatively massive amount for CSA, as in the 2021-21 fiscal year they spent $272 million on programs excluding internal services. MDA has leveraged the government contribution already to gain new private contracts for Canadarm3, as discussed next.
Axiom Space Canadarm tech and Canadian commercial astronaut flight
Houston-based Axiom Space had several connections with Canada in 2022, both crewed and uncrewed. On the technology side, Axiom signed two agreements with MDA in 2022 for external payload interfaces for a future commercial space station. The two sales of Canadarm3-derived technology included 62 payload interface pairs in September and 32 interfaces in May.
The sales happened after Axiom flew the first commercial Canadian astronaut mission to space, in which Mark Pathy (also the CEO of Mavrik, a private investment company) paid a reported $55 million USD for a flight to the International Space Station with two other commercial astronauts commanded by former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría. Pathy performed numerous technological and medical experiments, whose results will be published in the coming years. Axiom will likely fly its second mission in 2023 and is planning to build a set of commercial modules attached to the ISS that will eventually form an independent, free-flying space station.
First Canadian commercial mission to the Moon launches
CSA’s contribution to American-led moon exploration is not only through Canadarm3, but also by participating in NASA’s Commercial Lunar Services Program through the LEAP program (Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program). Simply put, CSA has provided a set of companies funding to develop and eventually fly scientific payloads and tech to the moon’s surface, and the first set of missions lifted off in December. A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched the ispace HAKUTO-R mission to the moon. The mission includes two Canadian payloads from Canadensys Aerospace and Mission Control Space Services that may land in April 2023.
Clearly, that mission represents one of only several flight opportunities for Canadian tech, and the CSA has also been working on its own microrover. In November, Canadensys won the $43 million contract to build the rover over its much more established competitor, MDA. The principal investigator of the mission is none other than Western University’s Gordon Osinski, who has spent much of his career leading new geologists – and several Canadian astronauts – on remote expeditions of Canadian geologic locations to prepare for lunar surface missions.
James Webb Space Telescope unfurls and begins collecting science data
Canadian government science also saw big strides with the James Webb Space Telescope (also known as Webb or JWST), which began collecting operational data in the summer following a six-month deployment at Lagrange Point 2. Webb’s deployment and early operations have gone extremely well, with the telescope estimated to have 20 years of fuel remaining. NASA has been managing a slightly higher rate of micrometeroids than anticipated, in part by slightly repositioning the telescope at times. But the observatory has otherwise been working very well.
Canada contributed the Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS) and the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS), which will give Canadian researchers access to 5 percent of observing time. (By comparison, Canada’s contribution to the ISS program is allocated at roughly 2.3 percent.) Canadian researchers therefore have access to this world-class observatory from the beginning, starting with Cycle 1. Early beneficiaries include René Doyon, co-director of the scientific team and an exoplanet researcher long known for providing instrumentation to other telescopes before Webb. The University of Montreal recently received a $10 million grant from the Trottier family to further expand his pioneering research to a new generation.
Earth observation and SWOT
Canada’s Earth observation (EO) strategy saw its first major investment in October, with three instruments launches planned in 2031 in concert with NASA. Canada’s contribution to the NASA-led Atmosphere Observing System is manifesting in the High-altitude Aerosols, Water vapour and Clouds (HAWC) mission. HAWC includes two launches: one on an unnamed Canadian satellite and another on a NASA satellite, both launching in the same calendar year.
Another prominent Canadian contribution to EO launched on Dec. 16, aboard the NASA- and France-led Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) satellite. The CSA funded CPI Canada to providing a set of devices known as extended interaction klystrons (EIKs) that will amplify the power on the radar instrument, which will measure surface water levels on Earth. The hope is that Canada’s water bodies will have accurate measurements to better counteract climate change.
CSA sees slight spending decline
Amid the government activity described above, the CSA’s planned spending was expected to decline in the 2022-23 fiscal year, which started April 1. Its planned spending was set at $388.3 million, a 3.9 percent decrease from 2021-22. While the CSA does partner with other government departments and with private industry to attempt to make the most of its resources, its space budget estimate as a share of GDP is rather low. At least two other space agencies implemented big budget increases in 2022, so we will see if Canada follows that trend in 2023.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s 2019 numbers suggest that Canada’s space budget was about 0.016 percent as a share of GDP, compared with 0.243 percent in the United States, India 0.024 percent and Australia (before its large increase) 0.009 percent. Notably, in 2022 the White House requested that NASA hike its annual budget by 8 percent to almost $26 billion USD ($35.52 billion CAD) – that’s pending approval by Congress – and the European Space Agency members of the European Consortium voted in a budget increase of 17 percent over three years.
Telesat reconfigures Lightspeed constellation
Supply chain issues and inflation are affecting the planned build of the Telesat Lightspeed constellation, which will likely see plans finalized in 2023 for its launch and configuration. The delay originates in late 2021, when Thales Alenia Space – then expected to manufacture the satellites – told Telesat it would have to push back delivery due to the supply chain and delay launch to 2026.
Telesat began discussing different configuration options for Lightspeed in March in an attempt to control costs and settled on providing 100 less satellites as planned to 198, not 298 (which is still more than enough to meet customer demand). Then inflation affected the planned cost of the constellation regardless, so Telesat has been working with its financers to receive funding. That process has been ongoing for months, but in the last Telesat update in November it sounded like the company was getting close to a resolution.
Maritime Launch Services breaks ground on new launch pad in Nova Scotia
After a journey years in the making, Maritime Launch Services (MLS) broke ground on its launch pad in Nova Scotia in September. It’s a rather big deal. The spaceport – when ready – will be our country’s first active launch site in many decades and the only spot where companies can reach orbit. Not only would Canadian companies not (necessarily) need to cross any border to launch things, but they would also have access to one of only a few commercial launch sites in the world.
Deals are coming in already. In September, MLS said it signed a letter of intent with Skyrora, an Edinburgh based launch service provider. Skyrora plans to supply its XL launch vehicle for MLS clients, along with a mobile launch complex and launch operations support team. At the time, MLS said they plan to “purchase the vehicles and vehicle support staff from Skyrora for their satellite clients. Spaceport Nova Scotia will provide Skyrora a launch pad, ground and operations support, public safety services, regulatory approvals and mission integration facilities and staff.”
Canada opens a Space Force
The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) established 3 Canadian Space Division (3 CSD) on July 22, which has evolved out of the RCAF’s Director General Space (DG Space) organization. It’s not a surprise that Canada made that decision given that Five Eyes allies – the United States, Britain and Australia – have made similar moves in recent years to high public profile (the U.S. version inspired a satirical series on Netflix, for example.)
At a projected size of roughly 175 military and civilian personnel in the coming years, 3 Space Division will be twice the size of its predecessor. The new division, is based at National Defence Headquarters Carling in Ottawa, and will be focusing on command and control, communications, navigation, situational awareness and weather – following on from previous space-based capabilities established by the Canadian Armed Forces.