Canada Looks to the Future in Space

by Paul Scott Anderson on January 31, 2012

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The Canadarm2 on the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

When it comes to space, the first thing most people think of is NASA. Or Russia and the European Space Agency, or even more recently, countries like China and Japan. In the public eye, Canada has tended to be a bit farther down on the list. There is the Canadian Space Agency, but it is better known for developing space and satellite technologies, not awe-inspiring launches to the Moon or other planets, which naturally tend to get the most attention.

Canada has its own astronauts, too, but they go into orbit on the Space Shuttle or Russian rockets. Canada’s role in space should not, however, be underestimated. It was, for example, the first country to have a domestic communications satellite in geostationary orbit, Anik A1, in 1972. There is also the well-known Canadarm used on the Space Shuttle and Canadarm2 on the International Space Station, as well as the space robot Dextre on the ISS. Canada has also contributed technology to various robotic planetary missions as well.

But even in these times of budget constraints, new ventures are being planned, including a mission to place two video cameras on the International Space Station late next year, via a Russian mission.

The cameras will provide near real-time video broadcasting continuously in high-definition. The cameras are being developed by Urthecast, a Vancouver-based firm, which is investing $10 million in the project.

Like their American counterparts now, the investment and development of space technology is coming increasingly from the private sector instead of the government. In 1996, the Canadian government contributed 32% to domestic space revenue; in 2010, it was only 18% and it is estimated to drop again over the next three years.

Because of smaller budgets, the CSA focuses on assisting with larger missions from other countries instead of developing its own launch vehicles. According to Mark Burbidge, head of industrial policy at the CSA, the Canadian Space Agency doesn’t have the money for such projects. “That got our astronauts up there,” he says, referring to the Canadarm.

Another area that Canada may be able to contribute to is space tourism, a prime example of private companies becoming involved in the space business. Companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Bigelow Airspace are changing the way that people will go into near-orbit and low-Earth orbit. No dependence solely on government dollars to finance their objectives such as tourist space flights, small orbiting hotels or launching commercial satellites.

At this stage, government funding is still often required, especially for smaller firms, but the future looks promising. Space companies are becoming gradually less reliant on the government for revenue growth. The investment return tends to be primarily a scientific one, according to Dr. Jean de Lafontaine, founder of space services company NGC Aerospace in Quebec, making space tourism more of an ideal option for private companies.

This would seem to be an optimum arrangement, allowing companies to compete in orbital missions and tourism, while government agencies like NASA, ESA, etc. are better able to invest in larger-scale planetary missions and other costly space projects (noting however that some commercial companies also have their eyes on the Moon and Mars).

Canada may not have its own rockets or grandiose space missions, not yet anyway, but it will continue to make important contributions to space exploration. And as a Canadian, I am very pleased about that!

About 

Paul Scott Anderson is a freelance space writer with a life-long passion for space exploration and astronomy and has been a long-time member of The Planetary Society. He currently writes for Universe Today and Examiner.com. His own blog The Meridiani Journal is a chronicle of planetary exploration.

terezinha January 31, 2012 at 4:49 PM

oi esta tudo confuzo eu estou recebedo as menssagem no twitter mande vidios obrigado

Victor S. Magalhães January 31, 2012 at 6:07 PM

If anyone is wondering, the comment above is (in very bad and misspelled portuguese):
Hello everything is confuse i am receiving the messages in twitter send videos thank you
it makes no sense at al…

Marc Angelillo January 31, 2012 at 4:49 PM

Hey there Paul,

Although as a fellow Canadian myself I’m pleased to see an article about our space contributions, there are a couple of problems with this piece. First off, that photo is of Canadarm2 on the ISS, not the Canadarm on the Space Shuttle. The other problem is that the article doesn’t even mention Canadarm2, without which construction of the ISS would not have been possible. Finally, I think the newest Canadian member of the Mobile Servicing System (MSS), the robot Dextre, deserves to be mentioned here.

Thanks for the reporting though!

Paul Scott Anderson January 31, 2012 at 5:14 PM

Thanks, Marc. I’ll adjust the caption on the photo. And yes, Canadarm2 and Dextre! Those certainly deserve mention also, just a dumb early morning oversight…

Supercopter January 31, 2012 at 4:55 PM

Huge +1: Canadarm 2 and Dextre are some of the most inspiring pieces of technology on the ISS and are, with Robonaut 2, the most impressive robotic achievements in Space. I just wish the CSA website would post more updates on Dextre too: it has been up-there for quite some time and only appeared on their websites in 2 or 3 news…

Torbjörn Larsson January 31, 2012 at 5:31 PM

I would hope the canadians do something along the lines what we swedes do, perhaps not successfully yet but at least in the competition: space tourist packages trying to entice Virgin Galactic and others to set up businesses here. The northern space and air bases are situated for polar suborbital (or orbital) trajectories, and the yearly Ice Hotel and the accompanying tourist business is a suitable lure for housing and value added experience.

Canada could have the focus point on better dog sledding, canoeing, fishing et cetera, right?

Chuck Black January 31, 2012 at 6:08 PM

Space tourism in Canada without any mention of whatever happened to the two Ansari X-Prize competitors who challenged Burt Rutan and SpaceShip 1 only a few years ago?

A discussion of Canada’s future in space without background on some of the other MDA projects which aren’t the CanadArm and without any mention of Telesat, Bristol Aerospace, the UTIAS Space Flight Centre, exactEarth, Neptec and ComDev International?

The author of this piece might have presented a reasonably good overview of one company but seems to have missed quite a bit of the other stuff going on in Canada.

Anonymous January 31, 2012 at 7:34 PM

Canadian companies have been good at getting communication satellites up into space and we do have one science telescope in space – MOST http://www.astro.ubc.ca/MOST/science.html .

For all the great comments about the CSA, the reality is that the budget is a joke. It has been repeatedly slashed and little can be done with the money the CSA has. There will be no great missions and only minor contributions to missions developed by other nations. Space exploration is just not a priority for the Canadian government – we rely on the good old USofA to do all that work. The budget is in the 10′s of millions range, not the billions that NASA gets.

Chuck Black February 1, 2012 at 1:15 PM

The Canadian Space Agency budget hovers around the $350 million dollar range, which is far more than the “10′s of millions” Kawarthajon states, but is also far less than the 18-19 billion normally received by NASA in a typical fiscal year.

But if we compare the annual CSA budget with the budgets of 20 other national space agencies, we begin to notice some interesting things:

For example, the Iranian Space Agency (ISA) with an allocated budget of approximately $500 million USD and few international avenues for co-operation is focused almost entirely on doing everything internally (with perhaps some Chinese assistance). But the country is “orbital capable” (starting with the Shahab-3 rocket), has launched and recovered live animals from suborbital trajectories and is slowly moving towards a manned space program.

As a second example, the new UK Space Agency (UKSA), formed in April 2010 with an allocated budget of approximately $415 million USD is building strong international partnerships with the European Space Agency, NASA and India but also focused internally on the development of game changing “breakthrough” technologies in collaboration with private business and public educational facilities such as Virgin Galactic, Reaction Engines Ltd. (the developers of the Skylon space plane), Surrey Satellites and others.

To learn more about how Canada really compares and what we could be doing, check out http://acuriousguy.blogspot.com/2011/02/two-billion-dollars-for-canadian-space.html#.

Anonymous February 1, 2012 at 4:56 PM

My mistake, I forgot a 0.

Anonymous January 31, 2012 at 9:06 PM

Canada’s space achievements are certainly noteworthy, and my compliments go out to UT for recognizing our country’s contributions to exploration. We have a storied and respectable history, and our modern space ambassadors, such as Ontario’s Chris Hadfield, are a resounding example of how even someone from the most humble of beginnings (Hadfield grew up on a Corn farm) can rise to unbelievable heights in this country if they work hard and have the necessary talent. Canada’s space development may have been slow, but by encouraging development in launch capable facilities, the Great White North will be a player in the next generation of exploration. Private companies and individuals are pushing harder than ever for development of a Canadian space port (see http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2010/12/06/bc-spaceport-muslim.html ), and with the ingenuity Canadians have shown in aerospace and robotic development, it’s only a matter of time before the Maple Leaf is flying high and proud above the atmosphere of it’s own accord. Until then, the CSA has shown its ability time and time again to broker mutually beneficial agreements with other space agencies, and offer its insights, and will hopefully continue to do so for years to come. The future for spaceflight and space technologies development looks bright here!

Karlous January 31, 2012 at 9:31 PM

Over the years, I have been reading about many Canadians in NASA, & in high positions, management, ect. I came to the conclusion that NASA, was a joint venture of the U.S. & Canada!! OK, live & learn!! LOL!

Karlous February 1, 2012 at 1:36 AM

Oh, by the way, I am American!

vtblom January 31, 2012 at 10:39 PM

I thought by the headline you were talking about http://www.universetoday.com/93070/toronto-teens-launch-lego-man-in-space/ Sorry…my bad

joe_schmoe February 1, 2012 at 3:13 PM

Does anyone know what happened to the “Northern Lights” mission to Mars?

ITSRUF February 1, 2012 at 3:30 PM

More LegoMen in space!
That was actually pretty cool, and it made the TV news!

François Dufour February 1, 2012 at 3:41 PM

Meanwhile, the CSA’s budget is being reduced from 424.6M$ to 317.5M$, with all the change coming from the astro budget, which will decrease from ~120M$ to ~40M$ (some of it is being reallocated to other parts of the agency).

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