Last week the UK and the US announced that they had signed Technology Safeguards Agreement (TSA), an important precursor agreement that will facilitate US companies from operating at UK spaceports and the export of space technology to the UK.
It’s an important agreement that will bolster the UK space industry and allow US companies to offer services and products they might otherwise not be able to.
The UK space sector “employs 42,000 people and generates an income of £14.8 billion each year” according to the UK Space Agency.
It is the second such agreement the US has signed in the last four years. In 2016 they signed an agreement with New Zealand. That agreement has allowed companies like Rocket Lab, a US-New Zealand venture, the ability to launch US payloads, including small satellites from the National Reconnaissance Office.
Karen Pierce, the UK Ambassador to the US said “this agreement marks an exciting new area for UK-US space collaboration and represents a significant step towards US companies launching from UK spaceports.”
“The commercial space sector already represents hundreds of millions of dollars in trade between our two countries each year, as well as thousands of jobs on both sides of the Atlantic. This new agreement will generate further growth and prosperity for both our countries.”
Canada needs to sign a Technology Safeguards Agreement with the US
In October 2018 Ken Hodgkins, then Director for the Office of space and Advanced Technology of the U.S. Department of State, said Canada was an emerging launch state and that US companies would be interested in launching from a Canadian spaceport(s).
For Canada to become an emerging launch state, several things need to happen.
- Canada needs a spaceport – The only current public effort is that of Maritime Launch Services (MLS), the Halifax based company looking to build a spaceport in rural Nova Scotia. The company had hoped the construction of the spaceport would have started by now. The pandemic has slowed the process, and the investment community has yet to step up and invest in the company. It’s SpaceQ’s understanding that the company is still in discussions with several potential investors. As well, other than anchor tenant Yuzhnoye, MLS has talked to other potential companies who are interested in using the spaceport. It’s our understanding that while those discussions are in the preliminary stages, that at least one company is considering the spaceport.
- Canada needs to update it space policies and regulations – Canada is working towards updating its space policies and regulations including with respect to launching rockets in Canada. It will take several years before any new laws might be enacted. However, the good news is that at this point Transport Canada can make some policy changes that will move things forward and likely allow for launch without the need of a new law.
- Canada needs government buy-in – This is critical. While the Liberal government isn’t against a spaceport or rockets launching from Canadian soil, it has yet to fully support the idea, even if it was solely a commercial endeavour. That needs to change. The government should get onboard publicly with the idea. Having a spaceport, particularly in job challenged Nova Scotia, would be good for the economy. As well, while the Department of National Defence is not vocally advocating for launch capability in Canada, they have publicly stated that if it existed it’s something they would be very interested in. It would allow them to rapidly launch small satellites.
- Canada needs to sign its own Technology Safeguards Agreement with the US – When Hodgkins told the Ottawa audience in 2018 that Canada was an emerging launch state, he caught a lot of people by surprise, including many Canadian government officials in the audience. As with the UK and New Zealand, a TSA agreement would enable closer ties and opportunities for both Canada and the US.
Let’s not forgot Made-in-Canada launch capability
It’s hard to predict when a Made-in-Canada launch capability will become reality, but there are several efforts underway including that of Montreal based Reaction Dynamics, C6 Launch of London, and Toronto’s SpaceRyde.
Launch Canada, a grass-roots not-for-profit organization, led by engineer Adam Trumpour, has been organizing and mentoring the university student rocketry teams across Canada. The group was to have held a small rocketry competition this summer but the pandemic changed those plans. The competition may go forward next year, pandemic pending, but in its stead Trumpour has organized the highly successful Launch Canada Lecture Series, a virtual get together. The series features prominent space leaders sharing their experiences, advice and answering hours of questions from students, most Canadian.
The latest talk by veteran SpaceX Propulsion Chief Technology Officer Thomas Mueller, attracted 200 students. Most of Launch Canada’s talks have attracted over 100 students.
There’s a serious student rocketry and space movement happening in Canada right now. The benefits to the economy by harnessing this energy would be substantial. The government talks about their innovation strategy, well it should include these students. A spaceport in Canada would help to keep some of these students from leaving for the US, UK or elsewhere.