An artist’s concept of Canada’s smart robotic system located on the exterior of the Gateway, a small space station in orbit around the moon. (Credits: Canadian Space Agency, NASA)

VICTORIA, British Columbia – The Canadian government unveiled Wednesday its long awaited national space strategy, focusing on artificial intelligence, deep-space robotic systems, Earth-observation capabilities and searching for new ventures with the European Space Agency.

The Canadian government will also try to cut the regulatory red tape the space industry has complained has hindered projects from moving forward.

Canada's long-awaited national strategy for space was released March. 6. Credit: Screenshot
Canada’s long-awaited national strategy for space was released March. 6. Credit: Screenshot
Canada’s long-awaited national strategy for space was released March. 6. Credit: Screenshot

But the centerpiece of the 22-page strategy was the recently announced commitment to NASA’s lunar Gateway project with a financial contribution to cover a 24-year period and the development of a new generation robotic Canadarm. With that announcement Canada became the first nation to formally commit to the Gateway project.

Canada will spend 2 billion Canadian dollars ($1.4 billion) over 24 years on the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway program, a human-tended facility in orbit around the moon, as well as other space programs. “Our commitment to the Gateway is the cornerstone of our space strategy,” Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, said in a televised address announcing the new strategy in Edmonton, Alberta.

“The bottom line is we’re taking the necessary steps to make Canada a successful spacefaring nation,” he added.

Canada will develop and contribute a smart robotic system – Canadarm3 – that will repair and maintain the Gateway. The space strategy noted the government has committed 125 million Canadian dollars to artificial intelligence innovation, which in turn will help the country remain a world leader in AI-enabled space robotics.

The strategy also highlighted funding of 150 million Canadian dollars over five years for a new Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program to help small and medium-sized businesses develop new technologies to be used and tested in lunar orbit and on the moon’s surface in fields that include artificial intelligence, robotics and health.

Future earth observation capabilities will be prioritized. Canada will launch the three spacecraft Radarsat Constellation Mission in late May. But the strategy noted that the Canadian Space Agency is planning for a new generation of Earth-observation satellites although it did not provide further details.

The strategy also repeated the 2018 commitment to provide $100 million in funding over five years to invest in projects that relate to the development of low Earth orbit satellites that support broadband connectivity.

The Canadian government will also review the country’s regulatory framework for space-related activities to make sure the rules are designed to provide timely responses for industry, maintain strategic oversight for national security and enable commercial growth, the strategy pointed out.

The case of the Norway-based Kongsberg Satellite Services and its attempts to obtain an operating license for a satellite ground receiving station in the northern community of Inuvik, Northwest Territories, is seen as an example of the burdensome bureaucracy hindering the space industry. The company has been waiting since 2016 for the federal government to grant it a license. The firm has warned it could lose contracts because of the delay.

As part of diversifying trade, Canada also wants to expand its relationship with the European Space Agency to support the ability of Canadian firms and researchers to benefit from that agency’s missions. This would involve renewing the cooperation agreement between Canada and ESA until 2030.

In addition, Canada will continue to seek similar benefits through its ongoing collaborations with NASA, the strategy added.

Jim Quick, president of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, said he was pleased with the government’s announcement but pointed out some elements of the strategy had already been announced and others included in the document require more details about funding and timelines. “The timely release of a fully costed and funded plan is a necessary next step,” Quick said.

David Pugliese covers space policy and developments in the space industry in Canada. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and a degree in journalism from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario.