Space Advisory Board (SAB) roundtable on Canada’s future in space

SAB Hosts: Lucy Stojak, Michelle Mendes, and Gordon Ozinski

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.


The Canadian space sector is at a crossroads as increasing competition and new commercial space actors push the boundaries. In an era of transformation, industry needs to be internationally focused and exporting. There is a sense of urgency to develop and implement a sustainable long term plan of action that will help to grow the Canadian industry and create job opportunities. Canada needs to catch up with other countries that are investing heavily in space and also create the right business environment.

To help leverage investments, a whole of government approach is proposed. Canada`s ability to develop a long-term plan and put resources behind ideas was highlighted as a challenge. Flexible funding mechanisms including government procurements must be available to fund innovation and science.

Canada must also ensure that it has the appropriate legislative and regulatory structures in place to support progress. Existing legislation and regulations may be updated, and new laws proposed for emerging space activities. The structure and mandate of the Canadian Space Agency should be examined to ensure that it has the ability to develop and deliver on a long-term sustainable plan with an appropriate level of funding. 

To ensure that space activities capture awareness, or “public mindshare”, public communication efforts by the Government need to be increased along with a renewed commitment to education and public outreach. There are many success stories to tell in Canada, of which the public may not be aware. Increased communication and engagement are encouraged along with using non-traditional groups to support education and public outreach activities.  

Key Implementation Considerations/Challenges

Role of Government: The Government should act as an enabler for Canadian industry by supporting space missions and research and development; Canada should also be a customer of Canadian services (e.g., satellite and Earth observation data). The government should not develop technologies that compete with industry – the government should administer projects. There is a perspective that capacity at the Canadian Space Agency is hollowing out and that more could be done to bring back in-house expertise.

Proactive approach: A vibrant space industry in Canada is possible. Canada needs to take a proactive approach to space, anticipate where there are opportunities and plan forward. Canada needs to allow innovative thinkers to pitch new ideas and take risks, and move away from government-driven specifications/requirements.  Canada must to be responsive, and support rapid decisions – otherwise, industry is at risk of being leap-frogged by competitors; industry must be first to market to capture opportunities and make big gains.

Flight demonstration: Canada has a suite of successful programs that help to support technology development (e.g., Canadian Space Agency programs, SR&ED) and that provide incentives for companies to do business in Canada; but, there is gap in terms of in-flight demonstration – a precursor to generating business and spin offs. SMEs are great innovators but they need first flight opportunities.  

Opportunities: The next generation is leaving Canada for opportunities in other countries (e.g., Europe, US); industry and academia need to collaborate to reverse this trend. Competitions bring together academia and industry, providing mentorship opportunities and visibility for career opportunities. Canada can provide more opportunities to enable access to space: sponsoring competitions (e.g., small sats); providing support and/or permissions to fly technologies (Government regulations to approve amateur rocket launches are not well-defined); leveraging Canadian government facilities (e.g., military base) for student projects.

Inspiration: Canada should fund projects that are inspirational. Space exploration missions and smaller, lower cost missions can be exciting; consideration could be given to a Canadian-led mission rather than partnering. Canada has a micro space mission capability at the University of Toronto Space Flight Lab that could be leveraged.  To position Canada to lead, ongoing and continuous support is essential. With respect to Canada’s nanosat activities, support has been intermittent: a Canadian Space Agency (CSA) workshop in 2010 recommended an annual Canadian forum on nanosatellite activities, and a follow-on event was hosted in 2012. More recently, the Canadian Space Commerce Association organized a first SmallSat Symposium in 2016 and is working toward a second event in 2017.

Telecommunications: Canada has been a pioneer in telecommunications with much expertise. The industry is at a crossroads as commercial providers plan to launch disruptive LEO constellations and GEO satellite orders are in decline. Deemed a commercial sector, support for the telecommunications sector has declined, impacting its competitiveness in the global market. Canada could lead in this area and undertake demonstration missions that would help to sustain the sector, and maintain expertise.

Earth observation: Earth observation is an emerging and growing commercial sector that could benefit from technology demonstration missions every few years; technologies can be developed for climate change and environmental monitoring which could be exported.

Space exploration: Space exploration supports all the proposed goals of the space strategy. Canada must determine its future in space exploration as other space agencies are deciding on next ideas post International Space Station.

Life sciences: Canada`s participation in the International Space Station has advanced life sciences research, and supported cross agency collaboration (e.g., Canadian Space Agency and the Canada Institutes of Health Research, Institute for Aging) and with other space agencies (NASA, ESA, JAXA). There have been important spill overs in health and medicine, for example Canadarm technology for surgeries, and more recently the Hexoskin bio-monitoring project in Montreal.  

Top Ideas / Outcomes

Whole of government plan: The Canadian space program requires a whole of government approach to leverage funding and enable a cross-sectoral approach; other government departments that benefit from and with space in their mandate need to be engaged in discussion on the future of the space program. It would be useful for stakeholders to know the Government`s short, medium and long-term goals, and the priorities that the Canadian Space Agency would be interested in pursuing. 

Partnerships: For innovation to flourish in Canada, an ecosystem approach is needed. The Government can bridge the gap between industry and academia by creating partnerships, establishing consortiums and public private partnerships, funding innovation hubs, and working horizontally with other government departments. More can also be done to encourage other non-traditional avenues for innovation, such as amateur groups, innovation labs and open spaces for hands-on experiences to be considered. These methods could help to attract students to the space sector and leverage the interest and passion of civil society.

Legislative frameworks: Legislation needs to be modernized, notably for remote sensing regulations; additionally, consideration could be given to an Outer Space Act, to enable new space activities such on-orbit servicing and space mining. The Canadian Space Agency Act may also need to be reviewed, with a suggestion that the Agency should become a crown corporation reporting to Parliament to ensure a greater level of independence and stability for long-term planning.

Emerging tech: Afocus on funding niche areas can be limiting and can restrict innovation. Canada needs to provide dedicated funding for key capabilities and emerging areas that may be higher risk (e.g., by applying the google 70-20-10 model for innovation, with resources dedicated to core business, peripherally related work, and unrelated/innovative activities). Canada should consider key technologies that will be critical to the space economy, including on-orbit servicing, Earth observation and LEO telecommunications.

People: To develop and maintain talent, youth need to be interested in space and envision a viable carrier path within the Canadian space sector. There are limited placement and job opportunities for students in space-related studies. Collaboration to develop internships and mentorship programs will help attract youth and ensure jobs in Canada; support for competitions is also important for providing hands on, relevant experience in demand by youth. Education and public outreach (EPO) activities by the Government have been in decline. In order to leverage space to inspire the current and next-generation, defined goals based on an assessment of needs/gaps should be considered (e.g., many people in STEM, may need to focus on STEAM or skills development).

Engagement and outreach: A national engagement strategy, coordinated by the Agency, would help to inspire the next generation. A procurement approach to contract out services for outreach may be considered as part of a renewed approach to EPO. It is important to engage Canadians differently at different stages – from public schools and high school through to university students and graduates. Non-traditional groups (e.g., museums, societies, amateur groups) can be leveraged along with EPO organizations to connect with schools and universities cost-effectively through networks of volunteers, reaching many children and youth. Participatory practices (e.g., challenges like NASA Apps challenge and Hackathons; mentorship programs; rocketry teams), should be integrated into an engagement strategy to promote innovation.  

Space mining: Canada is a mining powerhouse and has the largest concentration of mining expertise. Yet companies are choosing to go to other countries instead, like the US and Luxembourg, where there is more legal certainty and incentives for investment. Canada needs legislation to enable space mining, and could provide tax credits – aligned with the Emerson Report, Canada could extend flow through shares to space mining, or commercial space exploration activities.

Big data: Canada must prepare for a big data revolution, and examine how to leverage data to build jobs. Technologies and skills are necessary for interpreting and processing data and turning it into useful data for government priorities and commercial interests.


  • Adam P. Trumpour - Pratt & Whitney Canada
  • Christian Sallaberger - Canadensys Aerospace Corporation
  • Dale Boucher – Deltion Innovations
  • Dan King - MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA)
  • Denis Godin – Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)
  • Dexter Jagula – SkyWatch
  • J.F. Gauthier – GHGSat
  • Kieran A. Carroll – GEDEX Systems Inc.
  • Krishna Dev Kumar – Ryerson University, Department of Aerospace Engineering
  • Marc Boucher – SpaceQ
  • Marianne Mader – Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)
  • Minh On – Canadian Space Society
  • Perry Edmundson – Ontario Drive & Gear
  • Renee Hlozek – University of Toronto, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Richard L. Hughson – University of Waterloo, Department of Kinesiology
  • Roman Ronge – Alfare Systems Inc.
  • Rushi Ghadawala – BR Aerospace Solutions and Services