VICTORIA, British Columbia — Export revenue from Canadian space products and technology reached a record high in 2008, increasing by 41 percent, according to a new report by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).
Satellite communications was the top earner, followed by navigation systems, Earth observation and robotics systems.
The Canadian space work force has also rebounded after a three-year decline, increasing by 261 workers, or about 4 percent, according to the 21-page report, titled “State of the Canadian Space Sector.”
CSA President Steve MacLean said the study showed that despite a high Canadian dollar, the country’s space firms are continuing to make inroads into foreign markets. He noted that the domestic space industry employs more than 6,500 workers, with revenues of 2.8 billion Canadian dollars ($2.7 billion). Domestic and export revenues are now about equal, he added.
Space industry domestic revenues for 2008 accounted for 1.38 billion Canadian dollars, an increase of 0.7 percent over the year before, according to the report. Export revenue totaled 1.4 billion Canadian dollars, an increase of 41 percent over 2007. That 1.4 billion Canadian dollar figure represented an all-time record, according to the report.
But space industry observers say the report shows that a lack of work at home for Canadian firms has forced companies to look at international markets to survive. “There have been no big Canadian projects to invest in so they have had no choice but to go to the overseas markets to survive,” said Kevin Shortt, president of the Canadian Space Society.
The United States represented 52 percent of the export market while Europe accounted for 28 percent.
The report noted that the U.S. market grew significantly, from 499 million Canadian dollars in revenue in 2007 to 733 million Canadian dollars in 2008. Revenue from European markets had been in decline but last year rebounded to 399 million Canadian dollars, according to the study.
Anthony Salloum, a space analyst for the Rideau Institute in Ottawa, said the focus on export markets by domestic firms is the result of a lack of Canadian government direction on space policy. “Companies aren’t sure of what the government’s priorities are for the Canadian Space Agency so they are focusing on overseas markets,” he said.
On a positive note, Salloum said the rebound in the European space market revenue reflected the growing relationship between the CSA and the European Space Agency. “That is having an impact on introducing Canadian companies to the Europeans,” he added.
Shortt and Salloum said they saw the push by Canadian firms into foreign markets as continuing in the future.
But both said domestic revenue could climb as well if two satellite projects being planned by the CSA proceed.
The Canadian government is considering the Polar Communications and Weather mission, which would see the launch of two optical satellites in a highly elliptical orbit in 2016 to provide continuous communication services and weather observation of the country’s northern regions.
In addition, the government has ordered preliminary design work on the Radarsat Constellation Mission. The project calls for three satellites planned for launch in 2012, 2013 and 2014, but the constellation is designed to be expanded to six satellites.
MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates of Richmond, British Columbia, received a 40 million Canadian dollar contract from the Canadian Space Agency in November 2008 to design the Radarsat Constellation Mission. The firm was also prime contractor for Canada’s Radarsat 1 and Radarsat 2 satellites, both currently in orbit.
The design phase will unfold over a 16-month period. The total cost of the Radarsat Constellation Mission is estimated to be 600 million Canadian dollars, and that would include the construction and launch of the spacecraft, in addition to the modifications of existing ground stations.
Salloum said for more domestic work to proceed, the CSA’s budget, currently around 350 million Canadian dollars, must be increased. In a June 2008 report on Canada’s space industry, the Rideau Institute and the Canadian Autoworkers Union, which represents unionized employees in the space industry, called on the federal government to significantly increase the CSA’s funding as a way to support domestic firms as well as the country’s space program. It recommended increasing the agency’s budget to 870 million Canadian dollars by 2012.
In February, the Conservative Party government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced it would provide an extra 110 million Canadian dollars over the next three years to the agency.