VICTORIA, British Columbia — National sovereignty, security and the creation of domestic jobs will be the key drivers behind Canada’s future space activities, according to the government’s newly released space policy.
Released in Ottawa Feb. 7 by Industry Minister James Moore, the policy calls for the continuation of the Canadian astronaut program and further investments in the development of advanced systems and scientific instruments as part of major international missions. The government will also increase support for technology development, especially in areas of proven strength among domestic firms, such as robotics, optics, satellite communications and space-based radar.
“This plan charts a course for our future in space by ensuring Canada remains a global leader in important areas of space technology and innovation,” Moore said.
He also announced Canada’s continued support in the NASA-led James Webb Space Telescope project. Canada will commit another 17 million Canadian dollars ($15 million) to that initiative.
But the 13-page document, Canada’s Space Policy Framework, provided only broad brush strokes of the direction the country wants to go in space and had few specific details. Those are expected to come later this year when Canadian Space Agency (CSA) President Walter Natynczyk releases a long-term space plan.
The newly released policy framework promises more direction to industry on future projects, noting that a Canadian Space Advisory Council, with industry representatives and chaired by Natynczyk, will be created. “Canada’s commitments and initiatives in space must not be piecemeal,” the policy framework noted. “They have to be part of coordinated policies and strategies.”
Moore did not, however, address the ongoing budget cuts at the Canadian Space Agency and how they might impact plans.
Last year, Canadian government officials said the core budget of the Canadian Space Agency will drop 13 percent by 2015 as government-ordered cutbacks take effect and the organization refocuses its activities.
The Canadian Space Agency, headquartered in Longueuil, Quebec, has traditionally had a 300 million Canadian dollar annual core budget. That budget increases whenever major programs are added. CSA officials said the budget base is expected to drop to around 260 million Canadian dollars by 2014-2015.
Jim Quick, president of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, said a long-term strategic plan for Canada’s space program is critical to industry. But he said the association is pleased with Moore’s release of the policy framework and the government’s decision to recognize the importance of the roles that innovation and industry will play in future space endeavors.
The policy framework is in response to a major study ordered by the Canadian government on the country’s aerospace and space sectors and produced by David Emerson, a former Cabinet minister. That review, released Nov. 29, 2012, called on the government to recognize the importance of space to national security and economic prosperity.
Emerson said that his mandate was to produce a “fiscally neutral” report that did not call for major new government funding for the country’s space and aerospace sectors.
But he acknowledged in regards to space, Canada’s government would have to provide new funding.
“It isn’t fiscally neutral in the short run,” Emerson explained when he released the study. “At some point people will have to make investments.”
He cited government investment in major infrastructure projects of decades ago that helped improve the country’s economy, including the nationwide rail system and the St. Lawrence Seaway, a major transport canal system.
Emerson said the Canadian government’s proposed expansion in the country’s resource-rich Arctic territories will rely on space, and for that to happen more investment is needed.
Last year CSA officials said they hoped to focus on contributing robotics and advanced drilling technology as future cooperative international endeavors for both Moon and Mars missions. Canada will be involved in the ExoMars 2016 and 2018 missions with the European Space Agency, with industry providing components for the orbiter and rover.
CSA is also working on future rover resource extraction missions for NASA as well as the U.S. agency’s Mars 2020 mission.