Friday, May 29, 2009

A Short Backgrounder on Canadian Space Policy

Canada is today an international leader in the fields of communications and remote sensing satellites and much of this is because of John Chapman (1921-1979) who was senior author of a report entitled "Upper Atmosphere and Space Programs in Canada."

The document, now known as the Chapman Report recommended using Canadian satellites for communications and resource management. It thus became "Canada's Original Blueprint" for space exploration and formed the basis for the building of an industry focused around communications and resource management.

But while new opportunities may be available for the savvy entrepreneur today, the last formal document outlining Canadian space policy was written in 2003. Titled "The Canadian Space Strategy", it was intended to replace the Canadian Second Long-Term Space Plan (LTSP II) of 1994 (which had last been updated as part of the Performance Report for the Period ending March 31st, 1998).

The core thrust of the 2003 report was a call for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to continue to focus on Earth observation, space science, exploration and satellite communication plus place a renewed emphasis on raising awareness of space activities among the general public.

However, the initiatives contained within the 2003 report were quickly overwhelmed by a series of events including the appointment of a string of three short-term and interim CSA presidents between 2005 and 2008 and the aborted sale of portions of space contractor MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) to American-owned Alliant Techsystems (ATK) in April 2008 which highlighted national security issues and economic infrastructure components lacking in the 2003 report.

Industry leaders had anticipated that when Steve MacLean became head of the CSA in September 2008 an updated Canadian Space strategy document would be available within a few months but this has not happened.

Present industry consensus seems to be that an update will likely not become available as long as Canada retains the present minority government which has addressed the issues surrounding the development of a dedicated space policy only tangentially in their 2007 publication “Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage.”

For a more detailed discussion of some of the options available to Canadian policy makers, please feel free to check out a recent article of mine titled “What’s Next in Space: Canada Needs a Space Policy” which was published in the March/April 2009 edition of Frontline Defence.

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