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

SAB Hosts: Christine Tovee, Lucy Stojak, and Michael Pley

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.


There is a strong desire for bold ideas to rejuvenate the domestic space sector, and to reaffirm Canada's long held reputation as a trusted international partner. The Canadian space sector is in survival mode as support is spread thinly across the various domains and players. A more sustainable and balanced investment approach would help to create a collaborative ecosystem, which supports industry and academia. Canada needs to develop a structure for investments that is agile and nimble to take advantage of opportunities.

Canada's geography and the potential for space application and services to improve quality of life provides a strong case for the importance of space (e.g., connecting Canadians through broadband and enabling business opportunities; surveillance of our borders and navigation; environmental monitoring; forest fire detection etc.). Unplugging from space for 24 hours would demonstrate to Canadians how our economic and national security is increasingly reliant on space.

Canada needs to recognize the strategic value and importance of space. A whole of government approach is important, and in particular linkages to defence. Internationally, space is considered strategic and most G20 nations foster their domestic industrial capacity to support their strategic aspirations. Canada with its immense geography, its small and scattered population, and its limited military resources, has more reason to consider space assets and related data as strategic. More thinking can be put into finding ways to connect space with other sectors. Government procurement of services is an important tool that other countries (e.g., the US) are increasingly taking advantage of to enable commercial success.

Communications, outreach and engagement are integral activities to support talent development, as well as for maintaining strong collaborative networks across public and private sectors. Stronger collaboration with public outreach organizations is necessary, and engagement from early education to university.

Key Implementation Considerations/Challenges

New space paradigm: Commercial providers are delivering services to governments. Attracting SMEs through government investment will grow economic activities and build high technology.Other countries, notably the US, are shifting away from the old space paradigm (e.g., large government owned and operated assets) toward buying services. SpaceX is the first commercial launch provider for the International Space Station.

Whole of government and defence: Canada's space activities should be coordinated to avoid silos between ministries.Canada is not big enough, and should have a combined civil and defence space program to leverage limited funding. Canada should tap into defence procurements and seek to address the current trade imbalance (e.g., ensure work comes back to Canada through industrial and regional benefits).

Innovation ecosystems: Industry and academia collaborate to ensure that ideas progress from early stages to commercialization. Academia provides a critical role in helping to advance technologies, especially at the early stages where ideas are developed and tested. Space science by the research community supports all the goals and objectives of the space strategy.The role of academia and science, including its contributions to the growth of the space industry must be recognized and enhanced.

Anchor firms: Large space firms have an important role within the space community and help to support the growth of networks and ecosystems. Large industry provides funding to scientists and smaller companies - to fund initial ideas and deploy instruments in space.

Access to space: There is a misconception that space is a difficult, expensive, and a long term endeavor. Space-related projects are now being carried out more quickly, and requiring less investment. The CSA can enable access to a regular cadence of lower cost space missions to test new ideas and improve existing technologies. The Canadian space program needs to provide more opportunities to fly technologies in space and to being space qualified. Improving technologies through early TRL levels is important, but technologies will sit on shelves if they are not proven in space.People, particularly youth, want to be involved in initiatives that can be launched quickly and in shorter timeframes;  Cubesat programs are a cost-effective way to get Canadians involved in space and to develop skills.

Innovate and explore space: Space exploration and science fuel innovation. Space exploration is driven by science that pushes technologies beyond what companies are willing and able to do on their own. Canada has many key strengths and capabilities that can be leveraged. As a world-class mining country, there is an opportunity to be a leading player in space mining (e.g., combining robotics and a drill); if Canada plans to explore beyond our Earth, space robotics and space mining is an area that deserves to be considered.

Big data: Space data is big data that requires significant computing power and people to analyze the data. It is important to unlock access to data for multiple uses as opposed to a project-based approach. Industry and academia have had success in forming partnerships to exploit space data and establish world-leading data sets (e.g., used for safety and navigation, environmental protection and monitoring, etc.).

Inclusion and diversity: A lower proportion of women are enrolled in STEM and fewer women in the space industry. Diversity scholarships and employment opportunities for women may be considered.

Top Ideas / Outcomes

Service procurement model: Moving into the new space era, the Government of Canada should consider the opportunities that a shift to a service procurement model (as opposed to products/hardware) could bring for sector development. With a service procurement model, the government can serve as an anchor client or first customer to further company growth and investments. A focus on the procurement of services combined with the availability of appropriate longer term sustainable funding would support an environment where companies can raise capital, create jobs and invest in research and technology development. For eligibility under a procurement services model,  it is suggested that support be provided to Canadian-based companies, for services that are valuable to Canadians and viable for export. It was noted that the Government of Canada's Build in Canada Program does not currently cover services, and that this could be an area for further consideration along with a longer funding duration.

Space as strategic infrastructure: To foster a vibrant industry, there is a need to recognize that space-based assets are strategic infrastructure supporting national needs, both civil and defence; and for Government commitment to maintain Canadian capabilities, to ensure that there is a domestic industry to build critical infrastructure. Concerns are mounting, that the Canadian space sector is in decline and in absence of a plan there may be no major industry left in Canada to address Canadian interests.

Mandate of the Canadian Space Agency: The space sector has changed dramatically, since the Canadian Space Agency was first established (e.g., from largely dominated by government toward significant participation of the commercial sector), and its legislative mandate should be reviewed. The Agency's mandate and legal framework has not evolved with the changing landscape to enable growth and job creation, like other countries. A Vice President of commercial success was proposed to help position the space industry.

Funding framework: Stakeholders desire a long-term sustainable funding framework that is appropriately funded along with a clearly communicated process for project selection. Stakeholder involvement in development of a long range plan (e.g., with a ranked priorities and projects) is proposed. Established priorities and an inventory of projects can enable decision-making based on availability of funds (e.g., James Webb Space Telescope project was developed within this context). For large projects, transparency will ensure buy-in from the community and fair outcomes; criteria for selection and a down-select process could facilitate a competitive process.

Responsiveness: Consistency, continuity and nimbleness are critical to the Canadian space program. The Space Policy Framework recognizes the importance of international partnerships but funding is often unavailable to respond quickly to opportunities and they are often missed. It was suggested that funding levels, budget cycles, and program mechanisms may need to be considered. A greater proportion of the Agency's budget could be made available for mission opportunities, research projects and studies (e.g., Phase 0 studies). DARPA and the SBIR system in the US were noted as models for fostering opportunistic innovation.

Inspiration vision: Creating excitement, Canada needs a vision that can be easily understood and resonate with the general public. Countries like the US have a public vision and mandate that is easily understood and grasped by the public (e.g., “Canada is going to Mars”). Canada needs a new flagship mission to get Canadians excited about space. Inspirational ideas include contributing to moon villages, moon communications systems, and space-based solar power.

Communications: Canada can strengthen its communication strategy to effectively communicate with youth. Web-based platform such as Pinterest and Instagram could be used, in addition to Facebook and Twitter (e.g., Facebook live events, tweets) to promote achievements and activities of the broader space community.

Outreach: To ensure a skilled workforce, it is important to engage Canadians differently at different stages – from public schools and high school through to university students and graduates. Education and public outreach organizations (EPOs) can connect with schools and universities cost-effectively through networks of volunteers, reaching many children and youth. Like other agencies, Canada should have dedicated funding for engagement (e.g., funding for outreach groups, scientists to engage students, youth participation in space-related events, and mentorship opportunities).


  • Amir Komeily - Honeywell
  • Alec Wenzowski -  MaxQ
  • Chandra Kudsia - University of Waterloo, Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • Christine D. Wilson - McMaster University, Department of Physics and Astronomy
  • Cordell Grant - Sinclair Interplanetary
  • Francis Picotte -Ryerson Space Society  
  • Gordon G. Shepherd - York University, Department of Earth & Space Science & Engineering
  • Greg Slater - McMaster University, School of Geography & Earth Sciences
  • Kaley Walker - University of Toronto, Department of Physics
  • Laurence R. Harris - York University, Human Performance Laboratory
  • Mina Mitry - Kepler Communications
  • Paul Cooper - MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA)
  • Paul Fulford - MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA)
  • Peter Dorcas - exactEarth Ltd.
  • Peter Mabson - exactEarth Ltd.
  • Randall Lilko - Honeywell
  • Sarah Gallagher - Western University, Department of Physics and Astronomy
  • Steve Horvath - Xplornet