Space Policy
Mar 15, 2008

Once upon a time, not too very long ago, Canada was a powerhouse in aerospace research and technology, with a solid reputation as a world leader in this field. We conducted extensive upper atmospheric research in the ionosphere using Canadian-designed and manufactured rockets. We developed satellite technology, succeeding in deploying state-of-the-art satellites well before many other nations in the industrialized West were even considering the advantages.

Sadly, now, most Canadians can only tell you that we send mission specialists on NASA shuttle flights. Others might identify the robot arm referred to as the “Canadarm.” The scientific community would point to Canadian technology in the area of space robotics, considered a world leader and well on the cutting edge of development. But with the pending sale of the sole company with ownership of key space technology, such as Radarsat-2, to a large American company, Canadian involvement will likely fade into obscurity – as earlier technological ­triumphs have done.

What is inconceivable is that Canada, as a G8 member with a wealth of scientific and fiscal resources, has allowed itself to decline in this area.

Perhaps we, as a nation, are too risk adverse, or feel that our social programs far outweigh any benefits that could be derived from a Canadian Space industry. But would Canadian taxpayers be happy paying another nation to utilize technology that our own scientists developed?

What can we do? First, Canada, as a nation, must realize that without the technology we are at the mercy of nations that may hold back such services when it is strategically advantageous do so. Second, we must consider the implications of losing key resources that can be critical to our national and economic security – space R&D has been shown to spin off other major developments. And third, we must rate the importance of a comprehensive space program, and its attendant ability to enable Canada to enhance control over areas of the country which have special needs or are remote and difficult to monitor. It can thus provide “real time” intelligence on sovereignty or economic incursions in Canadian jurisdictions.

How can this complex and vital issue be handled? As one might expect, the first step will be to review the current Space Policy to determine which programs will be kept or terminated. Having arrived at that consensus, the government will have laid the foundation of a new, more pragmatic, program. A comprehensive policy and strategy is needed to overcome current shortfalls – joining the means to the end and establishing what Canada needs and developing a long term fiscal strategy to ensure that the necessary fiscal and critical resources are set in place.

Once broad objectives have been established, the laborious work of designating Critical Canadian Resources and what can be outsourced, begins. It will likely require assisting another company with the infrastructure and knowledge resources to develop equipment and facilities for a revised Canadian Space Program. Con­versely, the Government might wish to safeguard its investment by establishing an arm’s length, profit-motivated Crown Corporation to ensure that the essential industrial and managerial components of the program are not bought out by a major foreign investor.

The development of a Canadian capability to provide its own space-based surveillance must be seen as a major necessity of statecraft if we intend to remain a sovereign and wholly independent country in the 21st century. We need desperately then to equip ourselves and to ensure that we have the ability to maintain comparability with nations that currently possess a viable space program. Otherwise, we damn ourselves, forever beholden for the scraps of space services doled out by other nations between their own national objectives. It is not a position for a nation such as Canada to be in.
Retired from the Armed Forces, Rob Day is currently writing and conducting research.
© Frontline Defence 2008