Highlighting Canada’s space engineering, and encouraging the Canadian space sector to helm ambitious projects amid the pandemic, are some of the priorities of a new youth representative for Canada’s chief science advisor.
Youth representative Max King, a University of Toronto masters in aerospace engineering candidate, told SpaceQ he is hoping to meet with Canada’s space advisory board soon to discuss ways in which to help the space community. (The board’s mandate has lapsed during the pandemic, but King remains optimistic he can meet with them sometime.)
King is one of 20 young Canadians selected in March to assist Canada’s chief science advisor on various science issues affecting youth or that of interest to youth, as well as to participate in outreach activities.
“My role on the council is to focus on Canada’s role in space science and space engineering,” King told SpaceQ. “The space sector in Canada is something that can grow enormously over the coming decades, and is something that needs proactive policy in place to do so. The initiatives I am focusing on are centred on engaging the whole of Canadian youth in the emerging space sector.”
King said that one of the challenges facing Canadians is much of the space sector is located in the Greater Toronto Area as well as in and around Montreal, nearby the Canadian Space Agency headquarters. “This can lead to Western provinces and northern territories feeling disconnected from the benefits of a healthy Canadian space sector,” King said.
“I want to understand what barriers there are for students and young people pursuing careers in the Canadian space sector. There may be policy solutions that Canada can implement to help make careers in space more viable, for all Canadians. The reality is that the whole of Canada can contribute to Canada’s space sector, and youth understanding that there is a future in the space sector for them in Canada is a pivotal step to fostering that.”
King is a former westerner himself, having completed his undergraduate in materials engineering at the University of Alberta. While finishing his masters in Toronto for next year, King is working full-time as a mechanical engineer with MDA in nearby Brampton, Ont. His job relates to creating new spacecraft systems, including Canada’s contribution to the Gateway space station NASA plans to build near the moon. Canada’s Gateway contribution will chiefly be Canadarm3, a next-generation robotic arm equipped with artificial intelligence; MDA was selected to build the arm in June.
King has extensive experience in other fields of space. In 2016, he worked with Germany’s space agency (DLR) in support of microgravity science efforts conducted on the ISS. He volunteers with the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute as a space exploration speaker, and writes volunteer freelance pieces for The Planetary Society – along with managing a public relations e-mail related to their solar-sailing spacecraft, LightSail 2.
In between these various volunteer efforts, King educated himself on the Canadian space strategy released in 2019. For the Gateway portion, he has direct involvement as an MDA engineer as well as policy involvement through his new youth science position, he pointed out. King’s hope is that both Canada and the United States will stay committed to Gateway for the time it takes to implement the program.
“Space exploration takes commitments on the order of decades. It is not something that thrives under rapid directional change. Hopefully the next U.S. administration is able to maintain the same direction of the space program, and does not revoke the opportunities for international collaboration,” King said.
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“The commitment of our current [Canadian] government to align Canadian space efforts with the U.S. on the Gateway program is one that provides stable foundation for the Canadian space sector to build on for decades. That foundation allows for new space start-up companies to emerge, and gives young graduates more opportunities.
“A steadfast commitment to the Gateway program,” he added, “as well as [a commitment] to promote the development for commercial space products, are two of the best ways the Canadian government can support youth opportunities in the space sector,” he said. King also called for more collaboration with the European Space Agency – a group in which Canada is a cooperating member.
Coronavirus has been a challenge for Canadian space companies recently, he acknowledged, as physical distancing and supply-related delays related to quarantines and distancing have been said to hold up some projects. That said, King said there is hope to continue in a new way – after all, three Mars launches and a commercial crew successfully and safely did missions in the past few months. “As Bill Nye likes to say, ‘Space brings out the best in us,’ ” King said.
King’s mandate will continue until March 2022. By the time he is finished, he hopes to demonstrate the “overwhelming youth interest” in the Canadian space sector, which he said could lead the way to more Canadian missions such as an independent launch system, a Canadian-led space exploration mission, and Canadian astronauts and robots working on the moon alongside NASA crews and machines.
“A dialogue about the realities of students starting their education and careers in STEM [science, technology, engineering and math], and the possibilities available in the Canadian space sector, needs to be had with the federal government, and I hope to facilitate that dialog in this role,” King added. “I hope to work with youth to bring to Minister Navdeep Bains a youth vision for the future of the Canadian space science and exploration. I want to understand and recommend what our country can do to implement proactive policy in supporting its emerging space sector.”