VICTORIA, British Columbia — A strategy designed to guide Canadian space activities for the next decade has been languishing within government for almost two years, a situation critics say is hurting the country’s space industry.
The Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA’s) long-term space strategy was finished in the summer of 2009 but little has been heard about it since and it has never been released publicly.
“The word is that nothing is going to come of it,” said Kevin Shortt, president of the Canadian Space Society. “The government didn’t ask the CSA to redo it or tweak it; they just left it hanging.”
The strategy was designed to cover a 10-year program plan but in an early 2009 interview with Space News, CSA President Steve MacLean said that it would likely influence Canadian space activities for a 20-year period.
MacLean, a former Canadian astronaut, conducted meetings in 2008 and 2009 with Canadian industry officials, academia and representatives from other federal government departments involved in space. He said at the time he wanted the strategy to be shaped by those involved in the field.
Shortt said Canada’s space industry needs some sort of federal strategy to give it an idea of where government wants to concentrate its funding for future missions and technologies.
“It would help in terms of letting companies know where they should direct their research and investment money,” Shortt said. “But it also helps engage the international community since it allows other space agencies to understand what programs Canada is interested in.”
He said it now appears the Canadian government will start from scratch in examining the issue. On March 22, the government of Canadian Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced it would launch a 12- to 18-month strategic review of the country’s aerospace programs and policies to determine how to proceed in that area in the future.
That study, which includes the space industry, is now temporarily on hold because of elections. Canadians will vote May 2 for a new government.
Asked about the future of the long-term space strategy, CSA spokeswoman Julie Simard said the agency cannot get into too many details. “In the current political context we need to wait for the new government to establish their priorities and budget before we know what will happen,” she said.
Marc Garneau, a former head of the Canadian Space Agency and a member of Parliament for the opposition Liberal Party, said it did not make sense to order a long-term space strategy to be written and then not act on it when it has been completed.
“Why bother to task the Canadian Space Agency to give you a vision of the future and then ignore them when they produce that?” said Garneau.
Chuck Black, treasurer for the Canadian Space Commerce Association, said the lack of a release of the long-term space strategy has hurt the CSA’s credibility with industry. “We may have just got past the point where everyone is sitting around patiently waiting for direction,” said Black, whose organization promotes improving the economic, legal and political environment for space-focused companies.
Some of the country’s industry and universities are leaving the CSA behind and moving ahead with their own technologies because they can not continue to wait for a policy that might never be released, he added.
Black noted that various companies are developing microsatellites without government direction or input while MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. developed its recently announced in-orbit refueling technology on its own.
“In the absence of a long-term space plan there’s no way for the Canadian Space Agency to reallocate their policy and reallocate the things they want to do,” Black said.
He said he is worried that the aerospace strategic review will focus almost solely on the aviation industry and overlook the country’s smaller space industry.