Canada’s 1st 10-Year Space Plan in 15 Years Nears Completion

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Canada’s 1st 10-Year Space Plan in 15 Years Nears Completion

By DAVID PUGLIESE
Space News Correspondent
posted: 20 February 2009
11:28 am ET






British Columbia — ‘s first long-range space plan in 15 years is nearing completion. Once finished, the strategy will guide Canadian space activities and technology investments for the next decade and beyond, according to Canadian Space Agency President Steve MacLean.

MacLean told Space News that the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) would definitely be moving ahead with next-generation robotic systems using an increase in funding recently announced by the Conservative Party government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. But additional areas where should concentrate its space research and activities are now being looked at and will be included in a new long-term space strategy MacLean is writing.

“It’s a 10-year program plan,” MacLean said. “It’s a way to operate over the next decade” but the strategy will likely influence Canadian space activities for a 20-year period, he added.

MacLean, a former Canadian astronaut who was appointed president of the CSA in September, said he does not have an indication from the Harper government as to when the long-term space plan needs to be ready. But he noted that it will take shape and be finished over the coming months.

MacLean already has conducted meetings with Canadian industry officials, academia and representatives from other federal government departments involved in space, with additional meetings planned. “Instead of this being shaped by one set of eyes it will be shaped by all the people who have been in the field for a long time,” he said. “I’m hoping that allows us to come up with something that matches what we’re capable of doing in this country.”

The last long-term space plan for was produced in 1994.

MacLean did not get into specific details about his space strategy but noted several areas are being looked at or would be included.

For instance, the Harper government will provide an extra 110 million Canadian dollars ($90 million) over the next three years to the space agency. The funding is available starting in April, the beginning of ‘s new fiscal year, and is earmarked mainly for the development of terrestrial prototypes for space robotics vehicles, such as Mars landers and lunar rovers.

MacLean said the funding would allow to move forward with next-generation robotics, building on the expertise developed under the Canadarm and Dextre programs, ‘s marquee contributions to the international space station. The funding is specifically aimed at building systems to be tested on Earth, he noted.

“This money is not for space missions, per se,” MacLean said. “It’s really to advance the technology one step further.”

Those advances would include designing new subsystems for space robotics vehicles. “You can imagine if you have a rover you have vision systems and laser systems and local mapping techniques,” he added.

Another area under consideration in the space strategy is ‘s future role in hyperspectral imaging and remote sensing. Hyperspectral imaging is the simultaneous acquisition of images in many narrow, contiguous spectral bands and offers a more detailed examination of an area than other types of technologies.

“We’re working with government departments to see if they would like to have it and what the time frame they would want to have it in,” MacLean said. “Is that something that can do or should we leverage our relationship with international partners and use their data? Those questions are very important.”

Marc Garneau, the former head of the Canadian Space Agency, welcomed the long- term strategy that MacLean is working on but said the response from the government is also key. “We need a policy document from government which clearly identifies what its priorities are,” said Garneau, now a member of Parliament for the opposition Liberal Party. “The government needs to give us a sense of which [areas] it views as the most important and which ones it is going to put money into.”

He said one of the key areas for is in Earth observation. already has developed its various Radarsat satellites and Garneau said there is great potential in the emerging fields of hyperspectral technology.

MacLean said there appears to be a new recognition in government about the importance of space to ‘s future needs. He pointed out, for instance, that information from the privately owned but government-subsidized Radarsat-2 remote sensing satellite is used weekly by Agriculture , a federal government department, and passed along to farmers so they can better grow crops.

“I think there’s a recognition that we’re important to the infrastructure of the country,” MacLean said. “From communications to Earth observation to climate monitoring, these things are all important. It’s more than just infrastructure, it’s the fabric of the country.”

The government’s industry minister, Tony Clement, visited the CSA headquarters in Saint- Hubert, , Feb. 9 to reaffirm the commitment for the new funding. He said the Harper government intends to ensure maintains its lead and expertise in space robotics.