Space Advisory Board Roundtable on Canada’s Future in Space

May 19, 2017 – WebEx, the North and Canada’s Future in Space

SAB Hosts:  Christine Tovee, Stephane Germain, and Michele Mendes

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

To support economic development and well-being in the North, it is important to recognize the strategic value of space. Space is important both in terms of security, and improving the quality of life of Canadians through socio-economic benefits. 

Northern and remote communities rely on space technologies for connectivity and situational awareness, which are especially important for economic diversification, civil security and government services such as health care (e.g., telehealth, telemedicine), education, search and rescue, and, environmental and emergency monitoring. Stakeholders noted need for space assets to support situational awareness as a high priority, particularly important in search and rescue activities, ensuring responsiveness, and mitigating against potential dire consequences. Earth observation (EO) data and geospatial data has the potential for a breadth of applications in the North, but there may be a need to improve accessibility.

Inuvik has major potential to be a hub for the development of geospatial information that can attract business and promote social development. It is suggested that collaboration, including with industry and academia on the development of geospatial information centers can help to generate STEM opportunities and technology development (e.g., UAV testing and various other clean energy).

Significant concerns were raised regarding Canada’s legislative framework for remote sensing as it presents a regulatory burden that restricts innovation and growth in Canada and the North. The Remote Sensing Space Systems Act (RSSSA) is seen as outdated and it may be a barrier to attracting international clients, particularly for the development of ground stations and enabling activities in Inuvik. To help improve the business environment in Canada, it may be important to modernize the RSSSA and to renew Canada’s federal licensing process.

Stakeholders indicated that they were interested in seeing short- and medium-term deliverables being developed as part of the Space Strategy, and a need for action. Continuous engagement and consultations are crucial as stakeholders would like to have the ability to inform ideas through continuous dialogue.

Key Implementation Considerations/Challenges

Project planning and responsiveness: To support partnerships in Canada and internationally, the Government of Canada may wish to explore ways to improve its project planning processes to be responsive and agile. Prior experience has been that opportunity development and selection has been driven by a single committed official and when there is a change in personnel opportunities have been lost. Other countries and allies often wish to partner with Canada on initiatives, and it would be beneficial to put in place a systematic approach to enable opportunities for collaboration. Sustainable funding from the Government of Canada for space-related projects was also noted.

Licensing process: Aligned with international best practices, it was suggested that service standards are needed for rendering decisions for remote sensing licenses (e.g., within 30 days); at present, it often takes several months and in exceptional cases over a year for the Government to make decisions. Improved licensing may help to encourage greater investment in Canada.  

Business and funding models: It was noted that space and bandwidth should be dealt with as infrastructure, as this will affect business and funding models (e.g., service model vs. manufacturing hardware). 

Data Access: Open data and/or access to precise data that is affordable and timely will enable Northern communities to monitor Northern territories and provide basic government services. There may also be an opportunity support business opportunities through open data policies, and by making RADARSAT data available to the public. Access and normalization of space-based data is required to address crucial data gaps in the North and support development. Canada needs to get to a point where geospatial coverage in the North is as good as the rest of Canada.

Skills and training: Northern communities need to have education and training development to support the development of the space-related economy and job opportunities (e.g., to operate and manage ground stations).The Northern experience includes a loss of human capital as people often seek training and development opportunities in Southern provinces. It was cited that there are issues surrounding Northern communities’ technology adaption and business development. 

Linking space and the North: The Space Strategy can help to connect space and the North. It was suggested that a federal Northern Strategy would help to align the Space Strategy with the needs and opportunities of the North by establishing a plan to address challenges and a foundation for partnerships. A pan-Arctic approach similar to Polar View, a global organization providing satellite-based information and data services in the Polar Regions with membership from 90 different partners from 15 different countries, was suggested as a possible framework to guide future efforts in areas related to space and the North.

Connectivity: In Canada’s North, it is not just a matter of greater capacity (i.e. more broadband) but improved networking and quality of service. Communities in the North and remote communities often rely on satellite services that have a higher degree of latency (slower speeds). At the ground station/network level, overall capacity is shared and may be limited; it was suggested that the provision of the “backbone” infrastructure (i.e., portion of network connecting traffic to the Internet server) rather than the "last mile" (portion of network connecting individual end-users/customers to the services) that is driving complexity and cost. 

Top Ideas / Outcomes

Space is strategic: Space is a strategic asset that is important for social and economic growth in the North and national sovereignty. It was suggested that the Government of Canada should ensure that it has the right business environment and help to foster the Canadian space industry through strengthened support for Canadian infrastructure and capabilities. 

Northern connectivity: In terms of connectivity in the North, issues regarding quality, cost, and affordability were highlighted. The government may wish to use satellite technologies to address connectivity challenges in the North and Canadian-first solutions to support the growth of the space sector. It was noted that Canadian companies have invested in providing enhanced satellite broadband services (e.g., high throughput satellite services) to Northern communities that are more cost-effective than building fiber; the cost of these services can be expensive, and fiber-optics may be a preferred long-term solution where there is a business case. It was suggested that low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations may be an interesting option in the North.

Health care and education: Improved access to telecommunications services in remote communities is important for Canadians to access fundamental services such as health care and education. For instance, the internet is used for distance learning and to connect hospitals to nursing stations; to enable these services, high capacity (i.e., throughput) and speeds (i.e., low latency) is necessary and not always available.  Advanced satellite technology and additional ground infrastructure may help to address capacity and speeds.  

Modernize legislation and regulations: The space sector is experiencing a shift from traditional large systems and focus on hardware to smaller systems and focus on applications. It is unclear whether Canada as a nation is ready to embrace this shift–federal legislation and regulations need to be reviewed to address the New Space paradigm and to encourage growth in Canada. Stakeholders would like to see the Government take action to address of the recommendations from the independent reviews of the Remote Sensing Space Systems Act, released in 2012 and 2017.

Economic Diversification: There is an aspiration to develop a wide range of expertise rooted in the North to sustain economic development. The space sector is viewed as a support mechanism to move away from traditional resource-based economic activities, which would be a benefit to the North. In order to transition from traditional economy based on resources to the digital economy, there is a need for education and outreach, particularly to bring awareness to the geospatial sector, the tools available to support decision-making, as well as increasing youth engagement and involvement.

Earth Observation (EO): EO in the North is very important given large territory that needs to be monitored and expected trend of increased economic activity such as shipping (e.g. EO will be needed to support research, ice and climate monitoring, Search and Rescue, etc.). Also need to expand on ground-truthing of the data collection of the North; and integrating space-based data with other ground data. An area for potential EO investment is unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) data collection, which has become increasingly popular. It was also noted that there is untapped potential in SAR data to address needs of Northern communities, particularly in Search and Rescue.

Partnerships: Partnerships are often discussed at the government-to-government level, but in the field of science, it is often individual partnerships (e.g. university departments, individuals, academics) that are beneficial. It was noted that indigenous governments also need to be engaged as they are interested in building partnership and multi-stakeholder groups. Partnerships between provincial and federal governments along with private industry and academia could potentially benefit the space sector, for example, in geomatics. Our partnerships with Allies can also be reassessed to determine whether Canada can shift from being a paying contributor to leading an initiative.

Participants

  • Andrew Gaule–Government of Yukon
  • Benjamin Hamel–MDA
  • Brian Horton–Yukon College, Yukon Research Centre
  • Colin Avey–Government of the Northwest Territories
  • Doug Rae–MDA
  • Ellen Hols–Telesat
  • Ian McLeod– MDA
  • Jean-Francois Dumoulin–Kativik Regional Government, Tamaani Internet Section
  • Leslie Hogan–Canadian Council for Aviation and Aerospace
  • Lorraine Thomas–Imaituk Inc. / SSi Micro
  • Marie-Hélène Forget–Université Laval, Takuvik Lab
  • Matthew Dares–Aurora College
  • Melanie Desjardins, Government of the Northwest Territories
  • Michele Beck–Telesat
  • Paul Adlakha–LOOKNorth / C-Core
  • Steve Schwartz–Government of the Northwest Territories
  • Tom Zubko– New North Networks Ltd.
  • Travis Schindel–Northern Lights General Partnership
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