Canada doles out R&D dollars while new space strategy remains overdue

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VICTORIA, British Columbia — The Canadian government hopes to release its new space strategy in the coming months but in the meantime has provided $20 million in research funding for domestic space companies and universities.

The release of the space strategy is already more than a year behind schedule. The Liberal Party government had promised the policy paper by June 2017.

Navdeep Bains, Canada’s minister of innovation, science and economic development, said the government is still committed to releasing the strategy document which companies hope will provide a future roadmap on space projects Canada intends to undertake.

“We haven’t determined the exact date, but it will be as soon as possible,” Bains told journalists as he unveiled some new funding for Canadian space firms May 25 in Montreal, Quebec. “In plain english: in the coming months.”

Bains announced 26.7 million Canadian dollars ($20.5 million) in funding for 46 space-related research projects at various aerospace firms and universities. Research funded included programs to examine managing astronauts’ health, mapping waterways, monitoring forest fires, improving weather forecasting and studying climate change, Bains said.

While such funding is welcomed, companies are keen to see the space strategy which they hope will have more substantial space projects.

“There is strong support from the minister for space,” Mike Greenley, group president of  MDA, a Maxar Technologies company, told SpaceNews May 28. “That needs to materialize into a space strategy or funding for future space programs. That is something we are paying attention to as the international community getting signed up into future space exploration programs.”

Bains has said that the strategic objectives of the space strategy will focus on using space to drive broader economic growth through research and entrepreneurship within industry.

Ninety percent of Canada’s aerospace and space firms are small or medium businesses. The federal government needs to help those companies increase in size to ensure that well-paying jobs stay in Canada, Bains has said.

Bains noted that Canada’s Liberal Party government sees the space strategy as a “research and innovation” plan to fuel growth in the sector.

Space industry officials are waiting for the strategy so they can see Canada’s long-term goals, as well as any major projects for future investment.

The Canadian government’s budget released in February did not include significant new money for the space sector. But it did include a promise of CA$100 million over five years to support the development of low-Earth-orbit satellites that can bring internet services to rural parts of the country. The Liberal Party government wants to extend internet service to rural areas in the country and believes that LEO satellites could prove to be the solution.

Canada will use the money on projects that are directly related to LEO satellites and next-generation rural broadband, government officials said.

The development of a Canadian space strategy has been a promise of successive governments.

First there was an extensive examination released in November 2011 of Canada’s space sector by David Emerson, a former Conservative Party government cabinet minister.

Emerson’s report to the Conservative Party government called on it to recognize the importance of space to national security and economic prosperity and recommended the country’s Industry Minister produce annual, 5-year and 10-year plans for the Canadian space program. Those plans would be brought to a cabinet committee for discussion and approval each spring.

In February 2014, the Conservative Party government issued a 13-page document, Canada’s Space Policy Framework. But that provided only broad-brush strokes of the direction the country wanted to go in space and had few specific details. The government promised the release of a long-term space plan by the end of 2014 but that never materialized.

When the Liberal Party came to power in the fall of 2015, it repeated the promise that it would produce a space strategy. Bains announced in November 2016 that the document would be released in June 2017 but that never happened.