IRIS DENG/THE VARSITY

In 1962, Canada launched Alouette 1, becoming just the third country after the Soviet and American superpowers to successfully design and build a satellite.

In 1982, payload specialist Dr. Marc Garneau blazed through the atmosphere on NASA’s Shuttle Mission 41-G, becoming the first Canadian in space.

In 2013, Colonel Chris Hadfield became the first Canadian to command a spaceship, taking charge of the International Space Station during Expedition 35.

Now, in 2019, Canada is reclaiming its historic place among the stars, as this past week, Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Navdeep Bains released “Exploration, Imagination, Innovation: A New Space Strategy for Canada,” the federal government’s comprehensive plan for Canada on the final frontier. 

The 22-page document details a slew of groundbreaking commitments, ranging from private sector stimulation to international collaboration.

So what’s in it for U of T students?

The Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF)

Long gone are the days of the space sector being a public sector. Highlighted in Canada’s space strategy is the Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF), the government’s avenue for funding  private sector science. With $45 million of the SIF reportedly into the space sector since 2015, the government is looking to deepen the links between academic institutions like U of T with industry leaders and start-ups to grow innovation in the space sector.

Promoting broadband connectivity through a network of satellites in low Earth orbit is of particular interest. SIF has already earmarked $100 million over the next five years for “connecting Canadians everywhere” via next-generation, high-speed networks.

The Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program (LEAP)

While SIF is a well-established institution dedicated to science in general, the government is also looking to take a LEAP of faith with funding specifically for space innovation. To this end, Canada will be starting a Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program (LEAP).

Dedicated entirely to helping space firms start up and grow, LEAP will invest $150 million over the next five years into commercial technologies related to the space sector. Technologies in health, artificial intelligence, and robotics for use in lunar orbit or on the lunar surface are a particular focus.

The Lunar Gateway and Next-Generation Canadarm

There can be little doubt that Canada’s commitment to the Lunar Gateway project will define the academic and industrial space sector for years, if not decades, to come.

The Lunar Gateway is a NASA-led international collaboration of private and national space organizations with the ultimate goal of a putting a permanent base in lunar orbit as a launching pad to the rest of the Solar System. Canada’s role will be the construction of a third Canadarm, the giant robotic tool that currently adorns the International Space Station — and the back of the five-dollar bill.

With decades of experience operating the original Canadarm attached to space shuttles, and the second generation attached to the space station, the Canadian Space Agency is putting a lifetime of knowledge into its Next-Generation Canadarm, which will come in both a large and a small variety.

The Next-Generation Large Canadarm is improved from its predecessor with a lighter and more compact frame and no reduction in the original 15-metre reach. Its counterpart, the Next-Generation Small Canadarm, is a 2.58-metre multi-tool device capable of performing more intricate tasks like cutting wires while being transported at the end of its larger sibling.

These newest Canadarms will likely be launched early in the Lunar Gateway project’s timeline to aid in the construction of the remainder of the station.

The future is promising

Prospects are still slim for many of the promises made in “exploration, imagination, innovation,” but it is already clear that a cultural shift in favour of outer space is likely in store for the nation.

“With potentially great socio-economic benefits, increased attention to STEM education, and great impacts in a wide range of industries, the partnership with NASA and overall approach towards more multidisciplinary technological initiatives is something Canada can definitely benefit from,” said Ridwan Howlader, Executive Director of the University of Toronto Aerospace Team, in a comment to The Varsity.

While increased SIF funding and the creation of LEAP are the plans in “exploration, imagination, innovation” that will directly benefit U of T students, it is likely that many facets of the plan will open up indirect pathways to success in the near future for space-skilled students like Howlader about to enter the workforce.

 

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