On November 14th and 15th , individuals from across academia, business, government and the military gathered in Ottawa to connect with each other and help shape the future of the Canadian space sector.
The 2013 Canadian Space Summit, skillfully executed by the Canadian Space Society (CSS), was organized into two main tracks (Space Commerce/Law/Policy and Earth Orbit/Space Exploration). The session tracks were complimented by keynote speakers such as NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations William (Bill) Gerstenmeier and new CSA President Walter Natyncyk, as well as discussion panels and the Canadian Space leaders’ Roundtable.
Highlights from the Space Commerce/Law/Policy track included:
- Thomas DeWolf of the Canada Commercial Corporation (CCC), who spoke about the crown corporation’s role as an intermediary between Canadian exporters and foreign governments and outlined the extensive contractual advisory services offered by the CCC to space/aerospace firms.
- Chuck Black of the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA), who spoke about current Canadian grant programs favouring large, established space firms rather than fostering the growth of small and medium sized ones. Black also discussed the Canadian Space Commerce Association’s role of enabling relationships between scientists/engineers and investors.
- Wilfred So of law firm Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP, who discussed the differences between trade secrets and patents, their pros and cons, and how they can be utilized by newspace startups
- Jean Yves Fiset of Systèmes Humains-Machines Inc. (Shumac), who talked about his company’s human factors software which models and predicts human behaviour in situations as diverse as automobile accidents and space missions.
- Dale Armstrong of Carleton University, who spoke about his research into US and Soviet/Russian anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) development and policies through the Cold War up to the present day. Armstrong made the argument that anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons haven’t seen wider adoption not due to moral restraint but because of the disastrous consequences of their use.
- Ottawa city councillor Maria McRae, who outlined Ottawa politicians’ plans to hold events where space professionals can talk directly to the public on the importance of space to Canada’s economy.
- Urthecast’s Wade Larson, who outlined his company’s successful raising of $40 million in investment and a fascinating demo of a website that will give the public access to realtime HD video from cameras that will soon be placed on the International Space Station (ISS).
For example, a subtly revealing moment came during Bill Gerstenmaier’s speech.
During his talk, Gerstenmaier had repeatedly stressed NASA’s role in providing research and development services for Newspace firms. An audience member had posed the question of what NASA’s role would be in a SpaceX-led private mission to Mars (a goal repeatedly stated by Elon Musk himself). Gerstenmeier replied that he didn’t know what NASA’s role would be in such a mission or if SpaceX was even capable of doing it. Gerstenmeier then quipped, “they think they are,” which was followed by a considerable (and palpably indignant) silence from the audience. Sensing this sudden shift in mood, Gerstenmeier back pedaled, hastily adding, “and they may.” The gaffe was a subtle, but powerful, reminder of the bitterness no doubt felt by many at the decline of NASA and the rise of NewSpace.
The star attraction, however, was retired general Walt Natynczyk in his first public appearance as president of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). Within minutes, the former general made a massive impression on his audience. Natynczyk, in his thunderous (yet clear) voice, told a story about how he had decided to come out of retirement to lead the CSA after an epithany on a freezing February morning while walking three family member’s dogs. In a quote that will surely take its place in Canadian space lore, he stated:
As I’m stooping over to pick up another pile of doggie doo, a neighbor--that I love--sticks her head out the door and says, ‘Hello. How the mighty have fallen’”. Think about it. That’s when I thought it was time to do something different.After the audience’s long laughter died down, Natynczyk spoke of how unfamiliar he was with the vocabulary of the space industry and would need the help of those in the space sector (while pointing to the audience) to help educate him. He related how he had been baffled when speaking to quantum researchers in Waterloo, Ontario:
The point at which you start losing me is like talking to my puppy; when I start doing this,” (tilts head to one side) “you’re losing me.After talking about being fascinated with the micro and nanosatellites he saw in development at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), Natynczyk cracked more jokes, comparing nanosatellites and microsatellites to “milk cartons” and “milk jugs.”
Natynczyk then stated that one of his main goals is to make space comprehensible to the typical Canadian standing in line at Tim Horton’s. He made few concrete policy statements, other than to say that space research and development should continue to be done via universities with government funding rather than by government itself. Natynczyk also stated that the CSA is in discussions with various government ministries to implement his recommendations. What his specific recommendations are remains unknown. The space sector eagerly awaits more.
The 2013 Canadian Space Summit can be seen as a watershed moment. For the first time, the Canadian space sector is attracting significant levels of both investment and interest. A small space company like Urthecast raising $40 million in funding or a city council planning promotional events for the space industry would have been unheard of even five years ago. At last, we space enthusiasts have put the fringe behind us and come into our own.
Brian Orlotti is a Toronto-based IT professional and the treasurer of the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA).