Mike Greenley is group president of MDA, a Maxar Company. MDA is recognized as one of Canada’s most successful technology ventures, the prime contractor on numerous government of Canada space programs, including the iconic Canadarm.
Jim Quick is president and CEO of the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada.
Did you know Canada was the third country in space in 1962, after Russia and the United States? Just a first accomplishment of many. Today, Canada is an acknowledged world leader in space robotics, satellite communications, Earth observation and space science. Our diverse space sector includes some of Canada’s most innovative companies, universities and research institutions. It generates $5.5-billion in revenue annually, employs 10,000 Canadians in highly skilled jobs, supports nearly 22,000 more Canadian jobs and contributes $2.3-billion to Canada’s GDP.
But Canada’s future in space may be in jeopardy.
Unlike other countries that have been increasing their contributions, Canada’s investment in space has been declining for many years and we’ve had no long-term space plan for decades. Whereas in 1992 we were ranked eighth among all spacefaring countries in spending as a share of GDP, today we’ve fallen to 18th.
This downward trend is set to accelerate too, just as the economic opportunities of space are increasing exponentially. The current space-related global market opportunity is estimated to be $380-billion; analysts forecast it will grow to be a multitrillion-dollar market in the coming decades.
With the final frontier opening up, ambitious governments are setting their course and staking their claims. Britain aims to capture 10 per cent of the global space market by 2030. Tiny Luxembourg has set its sights on being the leading country in space mining. (Why space mining? Because just one asteroid, the size of a football field, is estimated to have between $25-billion and $50-billion worth of rare and precious metals, and there are currently 18,000 such asteroids in the vicinity of Earth.)
What about Canada? The current government has taken promising steps forward. It has made investing in innovation, science and economic development a priority, described space as at the cutting edge of innovation, appointed a Space Advisory Board and committed to developing a long-term space strategy. However, despite expectations to the contrary, Budget 2018 did not include funding for a space strategy.
With decisions about Budget 2019 being made in coming months, the clock is ticking. Not only are we losing ground to other countries, but an important door, now open, will soon close.
Canada’s international space exploration partners, including the United States, Europe and Japan, are planning a return to the moon in the 2020s with a small space station, the Lunar Gateway. It will be the base for lunar surface exploration, a science lab, a communications hub and a staging platform to explore deeper space.
The international community expects Canada to provide advanced robotics for the Lunar Gateway – a third generation of the iconic Canadarm. It’s a strategic and fairly modest financial commitment that secures our place as a full partner in the mission, keeping the door open for our astronauts to participate in future space missions and, potentially, to further contributions such as lunar surface rovers and space medicine technologies. But no commitment has yet been made.
Governments always have to juggle among competing priorities. And space can seem far away from our daily concerns. In truth, it touches the lives of Canadians 20 to 30 times a day, from weather predictions, to using an ATM, to checking a map on a smartphone, to downloading movies, to ground and air traffic management. It’s going to be even more pervasive in the fast-approaching tomorrow of autonomous cars, smart cities and advanced autonomous AI and robotics.
We believe the current government of Canada has the vision and wisdom to reverse the neglect of recent decades and invest today for Canada’s continued prosperity.
It has the support of Canadians. A recent Ipsos survey found that eight in 10 Canadians think the federal government should support the development of the space sector; and that Canadian success in advanced space technologies contributes to our knowledge economy, innovation and economic competitiveness.
Choosing to invest in space means holding onto our 60-year legacy; our leadership position in space science and technology; our vibrant and innovative space sector; our brightest young engineers, scientists and mathematicians; the beloved Canadarm program (92 per cent of Canadians say “When I think about or see the Canadarm, I feel proud”); and the exciting opportunities of the new space economy.
The #DontLetGoCanada group – concerned Canadians representing industry, academia and the space-enthusiast community – is gathering to ask the Canadian government to secure the country’s place in space by putting forward a funded space strategy.