Space Advisory Board Roundtable on Canada’s Future in Space

May 10, 2017, Calgary, Alberta

Hosted by: Christine Tovee, Douglas Hamilton and Stéphane Germain

Areas of Focus

  1. Grow Canada's Space Sector;
  2. Innovate and Explore Space;
  3. Strengthen Long-Term International Partnerships;
  4. Inspire the Next Generation;
  5. Contribute to our Understanding of the Earth;
  6. Improve Quality of Life for Canadians; and,
  7. Ensure a Safe and Secure Nation.

Highlights

Building on the findings from the science review panel, principal investigator-led science (or discovery science) was highlighted as particularly important for driving innovation and spin-offs. It was suggested that Canada does not have a seamless chain of research (from investigator-led science to priority driven commercial research). To ensure a return on investment, a renewed commitment to science is necessary and a balanced approach to funding science and technology. 

For innovation and discovery, it is challenging to anticipate where the next disruptive and spinoff technologies will come from. It is important to provide stakeholders with a level playing field to pursue interests and to make a commensurate amount of funding available to support an ecosystem that encourages trial and failure.

The space strategy provides an opportunity to recognize the strategic importance of space. The processes and procedures for investments and decision-making are important, but also providing that there is a Government champion for the space sector. 

International partnerships are a key component of the Canadian space program important for long term sustainability. Awareness of international opportunities (e.g., through Canada's contributions to the European Space Agency and NASA) is critical and additional outreach may be necessary.  The space democratization movement and increased accessibility represents a unique opportunity for Canada to work with other spacefaring nations (e.g., China). 

For the structure of the proposed space strategy, science was identified as a critical component and that could figure more prominently in the current goals and objectives. It was suggested that innovation and exploration are fundamentally distinct – with different outcomes – and that these two concepts may be separated; it was suggested that innovation supports the second objective of the strategy – to leverage space for the benefit of Canadians (as opposed to use space to drive growth).

Key Implementation Considerations/Challenges

Support for space science: Science objectives are sometimes overlooked and the need to return to science was noted as part of CSA's mandate to ‘advance knowledge of space through science'. Through the Strategy, there is an opportunity to restore the importance of science and to build science capacity in Canada (e.g., increased research funding, hiring scientists at the Agency, using space science and exploration to inspire the public).  The definition of what entails 'space science' has limited some activities that include ground-based investigation of space; the government may wish to consider applying a broader set of activities for space science. There also needs to be better mechanisms to transfer scientific discoveries from academia to SMEs/industry as discoveries emerge.

Flagship missions:  In consideration of Canada's relative size compared to other larger economies (e.g., United States/NASA), some stakeholders expressed resistance to flagship missions or large investments that may spread resources thin. Canada may need to prioritize in a few areas, and/or see large investments in a small amount of missions.

Accepting failure: As part of innovation, failure must be recognized as necessary particularly in the development of disruptive technologies. Canada does not have a healthy supply of space missions, thus creating challenges for academia and industry to ‘fail' and to encourage innovation.

Canadian brand: There is a perception problem around Canadian firms and Canadians being excellent in their home market and a global leader – they are currently not perceived that way. There is a perceived notion that “Made in Canada” instruments are not as good as the ones made by U.S. competitors. Canada needs to provide avenues to demonstrate Canadian expertise and success, and Canadian made equipment.

Emerging areas and regulatory impediments: Space adventure, space tourism, space mining, and debris removal were highlighted as areas that Canada may wish to consider. Canada needs to update regulatory frameworks for ventures like space mining and ensure that these frameworks are accessible across sectors; Canada has a great deal of expertise in the natural resource and mining sector that should be leveraged.

Scale-up: There are difficulties in Canada scaling up companies and sustaining growth, to become bigger firms; Canada needs programs that nurture small companies on an ongoing basis.  The Government of Canada could look at ways to encourage large Canadian companies to help SMEs with business plans to ascertain viability.

Support for Space Innovation: The budget for Canada's space program is small; and, funding is spread thinly across the various activities and priorities. Current mechanisms to fund technology development through STDP and IRAP, for example, have been quite successful. The Building in Canada Innovation Program was recognized as a good model for industry-government collaboration for technology development; it was suggested the CSA be part of this program.  Accelerators would help to fill a gap between grants and venture capital.  There is also an opportunity with defence procurement through application of the Industrial and Technological Benefits (ITB) policy, for space-related research and stronger engagement of space SMEs.

Tax credits: Direct tax breaks for science and technology would help to keep research going. The Government may wish to consider changes to the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) program to cover materials and equipment as previously provided.

Talent and Skills: Students want to work on projects that have real-world applications or provide them with employment. Programs to fly satellites are an effective way to help attract graduate students. Interest by the Canadian Space Agency in nanosats was encouraged as an excellent way to move forward with inspiring the next generation, especially within a resource constrained context.  Youth need opportunities to pursue careers in space science; if no opportunities, students will pursue studies and careers in other fields.

Data: Canada should reconsider how it manages and uses data (e.g., imagery and remote sensing) and engage with SMEs to support growth in downstream activities.  Canada should consider becoming a member of agencies like EUMETSAT (supplies weather and climate-related data) as this would enable industry involvement and access to data.  Other sectors and industries are interested in using space technologies and products (e.g., remote sensing data) for monitoring and business development, for example, oil sands monitoring and emissions.

Selection criteria for investigators: there may be a desire for wider criteria for investigators to be selected for space science funding beyond the usual academic track.

Top Ideas / Outcomes

Investigator-led science: Investigator-led discovery and priority-driven research are both important. In practice, greater recognition of the importance of investigator-driven research for driving innovation and a renewed commitment to science is suggested.

Balance: To be successful in the long-term, there needs to be infrastructure for talent pools and ongoing sustainable level of funding for both technology and science activities. A great deal of focus is placed on developing space technology to grow the sector; however, the sector also needs to pay attention to developing the space sciences as these two streams enable each other.

Priorities and planning: Canada needs a “Space Champion” within government. Currently, no Minister has space as a mandate priority and consideration should be given to including it in the mandate letters of Ministers. There is demand for stable predictable funding as well as a transparent process for project/program selection; this would enable the space sector to plan and better respond to opportunities for collaboration.Similar to NASA, a pyramid approach where the best projects are at the top for funding consideration should be considered; an inventory of projects may be a tool to help facilitate investment decisions. It is important to bring the research community and industry together at the start of a mission concept. 

Outreach and inspiration: Government and the sector need to do a better job at promoting Canada's innovations beyond ISS and astronauts, and increase efforts to showcase other interesting and successful Canadian space activities and initiatives.  Similar to other space agencies, a 1% ‘tax' on every mission to fund outreach initiatives should be considered. Canada could also look to NASA's Zero-G initiative (public votes for physical tasks for space station crew members to perform to demonstrate the effects of microgravity) as a model to make space fun for the public. 

Awareness of opportunities: Canadian academia and industry are not well informed on the projects and research that the European Space Agency and other international partners call for. Government has a role in accessing and sharing information in this regard.

Readiness to partner: There is a fear that international partners may stop asking for Canada to collaborate on missions because Canada is not agile enough to respond to opportunities.  More flexible funding mechanisms and program infrastructure are required. As well, partnerships should go beyond ESA and NASA, to seek out emerging opportunities/partners (e.g., China was cited as a big opportunity).

Flight heritage, cadence and access to space: Better identifying priorities/plans and providing flight opportunities will help increase the sector's ability to innovate and explore.  Irregularity in mission cadence present difficulties in maintaining technical and academic expertise. It was suggested that Canada also needs its own access to space (i.e., launch capacity).

Space security and the environment:  Environmental security/climate change needs to figure into the Strategy as space-based technology and space-enabled data are key tools to address. Space debris and space weather should be recognized as a global threat and area for action; it was noted that Canada should look to the U.S. and their development of a space weather action plan. Canada could also play a role in mapping and the de-orbiting of debris.

Participants

  • Andrew Yau - University of Calgary, Department of Physics and Astronomy
  • Christopher Cully - University of Calgary, Department of Physics and Astronomy
  • Chris Goodall - InvenSense Canada
  • David Knudsen - University of Calgary, Department of Physics and Astronomy
  • David Naylor - University of Lethbridge, Department of Physics
  • Denis Sirois - SED, a Division of Calian Ltd.
  • Eric Donovan - University of Calgary, Department of Physics and Astronomy
  • Fadhel Ghannouchi, University of Calgary, Electrical and Computer Engineering Department
  • Greg Enno - University of Calgary, Department of Physics and Astronomy
  • Hani Henein - University of Alberta, Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering
  • Ian Mann - University of Alberta, Department of Physics
  • Jimmy Hazin - Canadian Space Society
  • Jonathan Neufeld - TECTERRA
  • Kimberley Van Vliet - WāVv
  • Leonid Belostotski - Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Calgary
  • Michael Sideris  - University of Calgary, Department of Geomatics Engineering
  • Nathan Armstrong - Freespace Composites
  • Nick Veriotes - Canadian Natural Resources Limited
  • Stephen Achal - ITRES Res
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