CBC News: The House14:00Canada’s renewed interest in the final frontier
At a time when many Canadians are feeling the crunch of high inflation, the federal government is signalling a renewed interest in space exploration and technology — a move that some see as geopolitically and economically critical.
“Countries around the world are awakening to the idea that space is going to be a significant part of their economies,” said Brian Gallant, CEO of Space Canada, in an interview with The House.
“There are some that project that the space economy globally will be about $1 trillion a year by 2040.”
The federal government last month announced plans to modernize regulatory frameworks, safety standards and licensing conditions required for the launch of rockets from Canadian soil. New rules are expected to arrive within three years, but launches could take place before then on a case-by-case basis.
Canada, with its vast geography, is well-positioned to be a key player in the space economy, proponents say, and private industry has taken notice.
That’s opening the door to projects that would send satellites into space — something Canada has typically relied on other countries’ space programs for.
Gallant says investing in space, even as the federal government faces calls to invest in sectors and programs closer to home, will boost the country’s economic output and create well-paying jobs in science and engineering.
The country’s previous successes in space, like the Canadarm programs, prove the benefit for further investment in the final frontier, says Liberal MP Marc Garneau.
“I hope that, in the long run, that space will be given even more importance because it’s a history of one success after the other, and I think Canadians are very proud of it,” the former astronaut said.
“Canada can’t take it for granted that its positioning in the past is going to remain there … they have to hustle like everybody else.”
Following the U.S.
The move comes, in part, as a response to the U.S. government’s recommitment to space travel.
In 2019, the U.S. accelerated plans to return astronauts to the moon and Canada was forced to follow, according to Elizabeth Howell, an Ottawa-based spaceflight reporter for Space.com.
“Our big partner had decided to move to the moon and so we needed to shift along with them if we wanted to continue with the NASA space program,” she told The House.
A Canadian astronaut will be part of the Artemis II mission in May 2024 — the first crewed flight to lunar orbit since 1972.
The government is also funding Canadarm3 — which the Canadian Space Agency describes as an “autonomous robotic system” that will “use cutting-edge software to perform tasks around the Moon without human intervention” — as part of the U.S.-led Gateway project to establish a space station in lunar orbit.
But sending astronauts into orbit isn’t Ottawa’s only mission.
Communications satellites, which in the past led to innovations like GPS, can help us solve large-scale problems, Gallant says.
“There’s been a commercialization of space and there’s also been a new sort of array of functions that space can fulfill to help us here on Earth,” he said.
“It, essentially, can help us combat climate change. It can help us address the digital divide. It can give us crucial data that we need to improve the lives of Canadians and people around the globe.”
Startup company Maritime Launch Services expects to launch rockets that will transport communications satellites from a spaceport in Canso, N.S., beginning next year.
As the federal framework is developed, Gallant says it will create an end-to-end economy for space here in Canada. That means developing capacity for manufacturing space infrastructure, and conducting and advancing research.
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Spending priorities questioned
Not everyone is convinced that there’s room for space in the Canadian government’s investment strategy, however.
“Many families right now around the kitchen table are wondering how they’re going to pay their bills,” said Franco Terrazzano, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
“So I think the politicians who are dreaming up new ways to hold fancy press conferences should really be thinking about their constituents who are struggling to afford ground beef.”
Garneau acknowledges that the government faces a long list of existing financial demands, from health care to housing.
But he argues that the government should continue — and eventually increase — investment in the sectors where it’s successful, space included.
“It’s true that we have some constraints with us, but I’ve always believed that you identify in the country the areas that you’re good at. Space is something we’ve been very good at and we get a big bang for our buck,” he said.
“I would like to see our budgets for space increased considerably over the next few years because the areas where Canada is good in terms of technology are the areas we should be exploiting.”
For Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques, any investments now would have ripple effects for decades to come.
“These are investments that will kind of roll for one or two generations of engineers and scientists,” he told The House’s Catherine Cullen.
“So we’re making decisions now that have impacts for our grandkids, almost.”
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