Volume 2: Reaching Higher: Canada's Interests and Future in Space – November 2012

Part 2
Context (continued)

Chapter 2.2
Canada in space

Humanity has been reaching into space for 55 years, since Sputnik first circled the globe. Canada has been there for 50. With the launch of the Alouette-I satellite on September 29, 1962, Canada became the third nation to have a domestically built satellite in space. While the United States and Soviet Union pursued a space race fuelled by geopolitical rivalry, Canada was motivated by the astute insight that satellites could play a critical role in linking together and developing a vast and sparsely populated country.

That insight is more relevant than ever.

As Alouette-I began to orbit the Earth, Prime Minister John Diefenbaker praised the scientific achievement of the engineers and workers who had designed and built the satellite, emphasized the peaceful and practical uses to which Alouette would be put, and underscored the cross-border collaboration—with the United States providing launch services for the Canadian asset—that had allowed the project to succeed. These elements—scientific progress, practical applications, and international cooperation—have remained building blocks of Canada's space program ever since.


Photo of Alouette-I
Launched on September 29, 1962, the Alouette-I scientific satellite marked Canada's entry into the space age.
Source: Canadian Space Agency.

Alouette-I was designed to gather information and perform research for improving communications between northern and southern Canada. It was followed by successors Alouette-II in 1965, ISIS I in 1969, and ISIS II in 1971. These satellites paved the way for the launch of Anik A1 in 1972, which made Canada the first country to have a domestic satellite communications system, and Hermes in 1976. Hermes was the most powerful communications satellite in existence at the time, and was the first to beam television signals directly to homes equipped with small antennae, provide emergency medical services in remote areas through telemedicine, and facilitate teleconferencing. Hermes' impact on communications in Canada's North was especially significant, as it gave citizens there the same access to telephone and television as that enjoyed by their counterparts in the rest of Canada.

Alongside communications, Earth observation was an early focus for Canada's efforts in space. Canada's first activity in this area was provision of a receiving and processing ground station for the early versions of the U.S. Landsat satellites, which allowed Canadian industry to become leaders in satellite data processing and applications development. Later, Canada developed radar-based Earth observation technology tailored to its specific needs—observing and monitoring vast landscapes and ice-laden waterways during long, dark, and cloudy northern winters—leading to the launch of RADARSAT-1 in 1995 and RADARSAT-2 in 2007. These radar satellites are among the most sophisticated in the world and provide detailed ground images day or night, under any weather conditions.

Canada's collaboration with the United States on space ventures deepened over the years. In the 1960s, Canada's Héroux Inc. produced the landing gear for the Apollo program's lunar modules. And in the 1970s, the National Research Council (NRC) in partnership with Spar Aerospace (later purchased by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates) designed and manufactured the iconic Canadarm, a robotic manipulator that eventually equipped all American space shuttles and led to Canada's robotic contributions to the International Space Station: the Canadarm2 in 2001 and the servicing space manipulator, Dextre, in 2008.

Photo of Flora MacDonald and NASA official with Emmy
The Government of Canada and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration jointly won an Emmy Award in 1987 for their role in developing the Ku band satellite technology through the Hermes program. Communications Minister at the time, Flora MacDonald, accepted the Award, describing the Hermes satellite as "one of the most important milestones in Canadian space history."
Source: Communications Research Centre Canada.

On the science and research front, Canada launched the small satellites SCISAT and MOST in 2003, the former to monitor the thinning of the ozone layer and the latter to provide astronomical observations. Canadian firms—especially COM DEV—have also provided scientific instrumentation for American, Japanese, Swedish, and European satellites.

Canada's participation in the International Space Station

Along with the United States, Russia, Europe, and Japan, Canada is a partner in the International Space Station (ISS), a unique, orbiting research laboratory. Canada's investment in the ISS provides Canadian scientists with access to the ISS to conduct research for the benefit of Canadians.

Since the first module of the ISS was launched in 1998, the ISS has circled the globe 16 times per day at 28,000 km/h at an altitude of about 370 km, covering a distance equivalent to the moon and back daily. The ISS is as long as a football field, and has as much living space as a five-bedroom house.

The Mobile Servicing System (MSS)—a sophisticated robotics suite that assembled the ISS in space, module by module—is a critical aspect of Canada's contribution to the ISS. Developed for the Canadian Space Agency by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates in Brampton, Ontario, the MSS comprises the following:

  • Canadarm2, a 17-metre-long robotic arm, which has played a crucial role in the assembly and maintenance of the ISS;
  • Dextre, the ISS's two-armed robotic "handyman," which astronauts and cosmonauts can use to manipulate delicate objects and remove or replace components of the ISS; and
  • the Mobile Base, a moveable work platform and storage facility.

Finally, Canada has sent astronauts into space more often than any country except the United States and Russia, in part in recognition of its important contribution to the space shuttle program and the International Space Station. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian to walk in space, will also be the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station in late 2012.

International Space Station

Photo of International Space Station
Source: Canadian Space Agency.

Canada's public space program has always involved commercial expertise and collaboration. Early satellites were sponsored and designed by federal departments, but mostly assembled by private companies. The first telecommunications satellites were operated by a private-public partnership, Telesat Canada, which was fully privatized in 1993 and has since become a global leader in the provision of satellite communications services. The development of satellite data processing and applications to meet government mapping and surveying needs was led by the private sector, as was the later development of radar satellites. And, of course, the robotic systems that Canada contributed to the space shuttle and the International Space Station were arranged and funded by the government but designed and built by industry.

Symbolic importance of space to Canadians

Photo of a stamp with the Canadarm and Photo of a coin depicting the Canadarm and Canadian astronaut Colonel Chris Hadfield

An Ipsos-Reid survey, reported by the CBC in June 2008, found that the Canadarm was viewed as the top Canadian accomplishment of all time, ahead of universal health care, insulin, and the telephone.

By 2013, the Canadarm2 and Dextre will be featured on five-dollar bills, along with other themes emblematic of Canadian identity and achievement, such as innovation in medicine and the linking of the eastern and western frontiers by rail.

In January 2011, Canada Post issued a set of five stamps celebrating Canadian pride, including one depicting the Canadarm.

In April 2006, the Royal Canadian Mint issued a commemorative coin depicting the Canadarm and Canadian astronaut Colonel Chris Hadfield.

Canadarm2 and Dextre
Photo of Canadarm2 and Dextre
Canadarm2 (left) and Dextre (right), the Canadian robotic handyman, on December 26, 2010.
Source: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Canada's space program, then, has been a primary driver for the creation of a $3.4 billion indigenous space industry that now employs some 8,000 workers across Canada. Eighty per cent of the industry's revenue comes from satellite communications services, and half from sales abroad—primarily to the United States and Europe—making Canada's space sector one of the most export-oriented in the world.

Figure 2: Canadian space revenues by sub-sector – 2010

Figure 2: Canadian space revenues by sub-sector – 2010
Description of Figure

This pie chart depicts the breakdown of total revenues of the Canadian space sector across sub-sectors in 2010. The largest share was held by the satellite communications sub-sector, which generated 79% of space revenue in Canada in 2010. This was followed by navigation (8%), Earth observation (7%), robotics (3%), and space sciences (2%). Other sub-sectors account for the remaining 1% of space revenue.

Source: Canadian Space Agency, State of the Canadian Space Sector 2010
  • Satellite communications services include voice, data, television, and radio telecommunications services.
  • Global navigation satellite systems provide positioning, navigation guidance, and timing information to users with the appropriate receivers.
  • Earth-observation satellites are used to monitor and protect the environment, manage natural resources, and ensure safety and security.
  • Space robotics equipment is used to support manned and unmanned activities in space, such as terrain exploration and the retrieval, inspection, and repair of satellites.
  • Canadian scientists and companies have been involved in a number of satellite missions that have space sciences objectives related to space weather, astronomy, and environmental science, advancing Canada's space technology capabilities.

Text adapted from: Hickling Arthurs Low, The State of the Canadian Space Sector, August 2012. Research report commissioned by the Aerospace Review.

Figure 3: Revenues of the Canadian space sector — 2001 to 2010

Figure 3: Revenues of the Canadian space sector – 2001 to 2010
Description of Figure

This stacked bar chart depicts the total export and domestic revenues of the Canadian space sector from 2001 to 2010. With the exception of relatively modest declines in 2002 and 2007, the industry's total revenues grew steadily over the period, from $1.9 billion in 2001 to $3.4 billion in 2010. Domestic revenues grew from $1.1 billion in 2001 to $1.7 billion in 2010, while export revenues more than doubled, growing from $0.8 billion to $1.7 billion during the same period.

Source: Canadian Space Agency, State of the Canadian Space Sector 2010.

The Canadian space industry is highly concentrated, with the 10 largest firms accounting for almost 90 per cent of total revenues, relatively few mid-sized companies, and about 200 smaller players. A signature strength of the industry has been its ability to establish niche areas of global technological leadership, often by leveraging innovations developed through government programs.

Canada's space program is led by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), which was established in 1989 with a legislated mandate "to promote the peaceful use and development of space, to advance the knowledge of space through science and to ensure that space science and technology provide social and economic benefits for Canadians."Footnote 3 The CSA's annual budget in 2011-12 was $425 million, of which approximately one-third was temporary funding related to Canada's Economic Action Plan and specific projects.

Government departments that are major users of space include National Defence, Environment, Natural Resources, Agriculture and Agri-Food, Fisheries and Oceans, and Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. The government also funds two public research institutions—the NRC, and Defence Research and Development Canada—whose mandates include space-related activities.

Finally, a number of academic institutions are involved in space research and education. These institutions help ensure that Canada is able to nurture the minds that will imagine, design, and manufacture the advanced technologies needed to meet the country's future needs in space.

This array of institutions and companies has been both a cause and effect of Canada's half-century of success in space, and gives the country a solid foundation for securing and strengthening its position at a time when space assets are becoming ever more important to our long-term prosperity and security. But at a time when the number of space-faring nations is expanding rapidly and competition is stiffer than ever, Canada's space-related policies and programs lack clarity, focus, and managerial rigour.