Keeping Canada in space

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This article originally appeared in the Sept. 24, 2018 issue of SpaceNews magazine.

A coalition of Canadian space firms and researchers have banded together to launch a new initiative to put pressure on the Canadian government to sign on to NASA’s Lunar Gateway program and release a new space strategy for the country.

The #DontLetGoCanada campaign is trying to raise awareness of Canada’s accomplishments in space as well as the major economic benefits to the country that come from the space sector. The group behind the campaign includes more than 20 organizations and companies such as MDA, Honeywell, the Canadian Astronomical Society, the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada, the Canadian Space Society, IMP Aerospace and Magellan Aerospace.

The campaign’s main goals include highlighting the economic value of investment in space research, the value of participating in the U.S.-led Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway program, a human-tended facility in orbit around the moon, and the need to produce a long-term space strategy for the nation.

“There’s been this trend in declining investment in space in Canada,” Mike Greenley, group president of MDA, and one of the #DontLetGoCanada coalition partners, told SpaceNews in a Sept. 18 interview. “The international community is looking for a commitment from Canada to participate in [Lunar Gateway] so it’s a key time for Canada to determine whether it will commit.”

Officials in those organizations involved in the #Don’tLetGoCanada coalition will spend the fall discussing the importance of space initiatives and the space strategy with the public and elected officials.

Canada’s Science Minister Navdeep Bains said in May he expected the federal government’s space strategy to be released in the “coming months.” At the time, the release was already a year behind schedule. There is still no indication from the Canadian government when the strategy will be announced. But Bains has noted that Canada’s Liberal Party government sees the space strategy as a “research and innovation” plan to fuel growth in the sector.

Most of the work has been completed on the strategy and the government has had numerous consultations with industry about Canada’s future direction in space. “The big thing the [space] community wants to see is the publication of a space strategy for the country,” Greenley said. “We would like to see a key first pillar of that strategy being the necessary commitment to Lunar Gateway.”

The #DontLetGoCanada coalition also released the results of a public opinion survey, indicating that eight in 10 Canadians want the federal government to support development of the country’s space sector. But the survey also noted that the public has little knowledge of the sector.

Greenley said the group wants to harness the public support for the space sector while at the same time educating Canadians about the value of playing a role in space.

MDA, which developed the Canadarm and could likely have a key role in Canada’s participation in the Lunar Gateway project, helped organize the #Don’tLetGoCanada group. The Lunar Gateway commitment would further advance the robotics base in Canada but also help support the artificial intelligence research community in the country, Greenley said.

A new generation of Canadarm would also provide a highly visible and critical component to Lunar Gateway operations, including the assembly of the Gateway itself, its ongoing maintenance and the capture of visiting spacecraft, Greenley has previously noted.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine met with Canadian Space Agency President Sylvain Laporte Sept. 6 at NASA headquarters to discuss cooperation between the two agencies as well as a potential role for Canada on the Lunar Gateway.

Bridenstine noted at a Sept. 7 forum in Washington that, “We need to take advantage of some of the great capabilities that Canada has developed.”

He suggested that capabilities, such as a version of the Canadarm2 robotic arm on the International Space Station, could be used to help maintain the Gateway when astronauts are not on board. “Hopefully, maybe one day we can have an agreement where we can have a Canadarm on Gateway,” Bridenstine said. “Not only on the outside but on the inside, and have it more robust than ever before so that it can, in fact, help manage the space station when it is uncrewed.”