U.S.-Canada space relations not affected by trade dispute

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WASHINGTON — Both American and Canadian officials said they’re optimistic about continued strong cooperation between their nations’ space programs despite trade and other disputes.

Speaking at a Sept. 7 forum at the Wilson Center here about U.S.-Canada space relations, Scott Pace, executive secretary of the National Space Council, praised the long history of cooperation between the two countries in space activities and expected it to continue.

“We now find ourselves on the cusp of a very new era across all these areas and a promising future, and our bilateral partnership with Canada has been a strong asset in the past and is going to continue to be so in the future,” he said.

He spoke while, just a few blocks away at the offices of the United States Trade Representative, American and Canadian negotiators were discussing issues related to changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement. Those came after months of trade disputes between the countries.

Asked by one of the event’s moderators if space was “immune” to those trade tensions, Pace said he didn’t have the authority to address trade issues specifically. However, he argued that the growth of free trade between the two countries had its roots in security and defense cooperation during the Cold War.

“I think we’re looking at, certainly, a period of adjustment as globalization poses new challenges,” he said. “I think that space is rather special. I would never take anything off the table for other trade discussions, but I think that the importance of space, our mutual interests there, is right now undisturbed.”

Pace’s comments came after NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Canadian Space Agency President Sylvain Laporte, in keynotes at the event earlier in the day, praised the cooperation between the two agencies and said they expected it to continue.

“We had a great conversation yesterday,” said Bridenstine of a meeting with Laporte at NASA Headquarters Sept. 6. “We’re looking forward to a long and very collaborative relationship as it relates to space.”

Laporte praised NASA for developing “a very ambitious vision” for space exploration. “Once again, our American colleagues are charting a clear and robust vision for the future of space exploration that inspires others to rise to the challenge.”

Bridenstine noted that he and Laporte discussed potential Canadian cooperation in the NASA-led Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway. “We need to take advantage of some of the great capabilities that Canada has developed,” he said, such as a version of the Canadarm2 robotic arm on the International Space Station that could, for the Gateway, be used to help maintain it when astronauts are not on board.

“Hopefully, maybe one day we can have an agreement where we can have a Canadarm on Gateway,” he 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.”

Another issue between the two countries in space is the future of the ISS. “We know that we need to think about our future steps beyond the International Space Station,” Laporte said, not elaborating on what those steps would be. “We consider the ISS as a key stepping stone for future exploration destinations, helping us to learn how to live and work in space.”

Pace said he appreciated the commitment of the Canadian government to support ISS operations through 2024. “Between now and then, the U.S. is looking forward to working with Canada to plan for a transition from its current model to a more commercially active low Earth orbit, with more opportunities for the private sector and continuing government research.”

“In the U.S. as well as in Canada, we consider this relationship to be a very, very good illustration of how two countries can collaborate successfully together,” Laporte said. “So despite any kind of anxiety that may have traversed over time, the past few decades, we can always look back to space and say, ‘You know what, despite some of our differences, either between us or with other nations, we’ve always found a way to cooperate and to work properly in space.’”