Canada was once one of the top countries invested in space technology. Yet in recent times funding for Canadian space innovation has decreased significantly. Whether this is due to the tightening of budgets by our Conservative government, or whether it is simply the product of a change in values among Canadians is unclear. The emphasis on space research has however, clearly decreased.
Canada was one of the earliest countries involved in space research. It launched the Alouette-I into space in September 29, 1962. In doing so, it became the third country to launch a satellite into space. Canada’s contributions to the International Space Station (ISS) include the innovative Canadarm2, a robotic arm used to move equipment,in 2001, and Dextre, a space robot that performs maintenance, in 2008. Canada used to be among the countries sending the most number of astronauts to space, but this trend is slowly changing. Ever since the Tories formed a government a decade ago, only five Canadians have gone into space. This number is small given that there have been a total of sixteen space missions in which Canadians have participated.
U of T has also played a significant role in Canadian space research. Faculty from University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), including Barry French, the late Irving Glass, Ben Etkin, Phil Sullivan, Rod Tennyson, and Peter Hughes, assisted in the rescue of Apollo 13 in the 1970. Due to an on board explosion, the spacecraft was not able to land on the moon and the mission was reassigned to Apollo 14. More recently, the Canadian Advanced Nanospace eXperiment (CanX) program at UTIAS has been providing scientists across the world with access to nanosatellites.
In an attempt to revive space research and development in Canada, the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA) asked that all political parties commit to a transparent, long-term space plan. The executive director of CSCA, Marc Boucher said that “the Canadian Space Agency and Canada’s space program has definitely taken a back seat since the Conservative government has been in power.” The Canadian Space Agency developed and presented a long-term space plan to the government in 2009. However, this draft was not released publicly and was only partially implemented.
Although there has been an increase in government funds for research and development in the space sector, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) feels that this funding is still too low compared to other countries. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Canada invests only 1.69 per cent of its GDP in research and development whereas the global average stands at 2.4 per cent.
The CSCA requested an additional $75 million over the next three years for the CSA’s Space Technology Development Program. The Liberals and NDP were quick to respond to the request. Tom Muclair announced that the NDP would put “aside 40 million dollars over four years in the Canadian Space Agency’s space technology development program to help companies commercialize new technologies.” Liberal MP Marc Garneau, the first Canadian to go to space and the former president of the CSA, has said that a Liberal government will also put more funding for research and development.
The need for more funding in the space sector is not universally accepted. The CSCA cleverly used the Tories’ resistance to their requests and the ongoing federal elections as a platform from which to request more funding. The Liberals and NDP were quick to respond to CSCA’s request as part of their campaign. The Conservatives’ stance on this issue is clear, as they have failed to comply with the CSCA’s earlier requests and have yet to promise anything long-term.
With increased funding, it is likely that Canada will once again become one of the leading nations in space research and development. The outcome of the federal elections in October will likely determine whether or not more funds will be provided to the space sector.
In the past, space research and development was a source of national pride. It was a large part of the Canadian economy. Even today, the space sector provides thousands of jobs and contributes over three billion dollars to the Canadian economy. However, space research is no longer in the headlines as it was 50 years ago. Today Canadian values have changed. Increased funds for the space sector comes with a compromise in funds for another sector, one that is perhaps of more value to Canadians now.