Experts are worried about a report that shows India has moved ahead of Canada in space competitiveness and that Canada is also losing ground to other big players in space.
The 2011 Space Competitiveness Index, compiled by U.S. consulting firm Futron, also says government delays in presenting a long-term space plan are offsetting Canada's competitive advantages.
There are concerns the delays may even put Canada behind in the space robotics sector where it has built a worldwide reputation with its iconic Canadarm.
Futron's recently released analysis of the 10 leading space nations reveals Canada lost its sixth-place ranking to India in 2010.
The analysis compares how countries invest in and benefit from the space industry.
Futron's program manager, David Vaccaro, says the index shows Canada has slipped behind India and is being challenged hard by Brazil, China, Israel, Japan and South Korea.
“My sense is that what's really happening is that as other countries start to move up, Canada has lost relative positional strength because other countries have started to advance faster,” he told The Canadian Press.
The analysis highlights the fact Canada still has not unveiled a new long-term plan for its space sector.
It praises Canada for retaining a skilled space workforce and notes that the country's space companies did well in 2010.
“But delays in space policy...are offsetting these competitive advantages,” the Futron report said.
Steve MacLean, the head of the Canadian Space Agency, has been working for several years on the long-term plan for several years. It was first due in November 2008.
Mr. Vaccaro says the continuing delay is having a ripple effect on Canadian companies which hold off making decisions because they depend on the vision laid out by the government.
“It's Canada's lack of a formal ratification of its long-term space policy, which creates, at least temporarily, some policy uncertainty,” he said.
The Canadian Space Agency said it would have no comment about the Futron analysis.
Industry Canada, which oversees the space agency, did not respond to emails concerning the report.
Chuck Black, the treasurer of the Canadian Space Commerce Association, warns the lack of direction from Ottawa could hurt the country's robotics sector.
“The lack of a long-term space plan, the lack of any future science projects, the lack of basic research being done, that is hamstringing our efforts,” Mr. Black said in an interview.
“And it's making us go in a lot of different directions which may dilute over time our Canadian expertise in areas like robotics.”
Kevin Shortt, the president of the Canadian Space Society, says the Canadian government should be worried about being left in the dust.
He is currently working at the German Space Agency outside Munich, where he is doing an internship.
“Canada is absolutely getting left behind and I'm seeing it in things like in robotics,” he said in a phone interview.
“The kind of robotics innovation that's going on here (Germany) is definitely a threat to Canada's well-being in space robotics.”
Mr. Shortt also says he's heard that MacLean's long-term space plan has been categorically rejected and is basically a dead horse.
The Futron Space Competitiveness Index also notes that Canada's space industry is highly integrated with both the U.S. and European space communities.
The commercial relationship between Canada and the Americans is underlined by the fact Canada's top three space industry companies are active south of the border.
Com Dev International, Telesat, and MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd., which built the Canadarm, account for a large portion of Canadian space exports to the United States.
“The revenues for those companies in 2009 ranked them among the top 75 companies in space,” Mr. Vaccaro added.
But Mr. Black says MDA recently mentioned publicly that it has had trouble growing in Canada and is “looking for opportunities elsewhere.”
Mr. Shortt says senior people at Com Dev, a satellite equipment manufacturer, have told him the company is not doing any major planning until it sees what the Canadian Space Agency does.
“The way I look at it, companies around the world aren't waiting for their local (space) agencies to create a plan,” he said.
Mr. Shortt says the Canadian space industry should do likewise and seize every opportunity it can.
“Get creative, be innovative in the kinds of plans that they take on and start turning revenues out of that.”