Monday, January 20, 2014

The Next Sixteen Months in Space for Canada

          by Chuck Black

Bob McDonald.
According to the January 3rd, 2014 CBC news post by Quirks and Quarks host Bob McDonald titled "Space will be a hive of activity in 2014," the next year will see many advances as "new robots reach Mars, another robot touches a comet, a new capsule to transport humans makes its first flight and private enterprise continues to lead the way in leaving the planet."

Walt Natynczyk.
Of course, most government activity will remain Earthbound as Federal politicians dither interminably over policy, funding and goals (such as outlined in the January 13th, 2014 blog post "Just Announced: Yet Another Science and Technology Policy Review!") and Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president Walter Natynczyk (perhaps the most publicly shy CSA president ever) continues to carry on towards the release (maybe) of the "10-year plan" described in the November 14th, 2013 Canadian Press article "Canadian Space Agency chief points to 10-year plan."

Even the annual State of the Canadian Space Sector report, an economic analysis outlining Canadian space industry activity normally released during the November/ December period has not yet surfaced. The last report, covering 2011, was released on December 3rd, 2012 with a forward from then CSA president Steve MacLean, and much has happened since (Note: The 2012 State of the Canadian Space Sector report, with a new introduction by the current CSA president was finally posted on the CSA website on January 21st, 2014. The new report, indicated that overall space sector revenues decreased nearly 4.5% between 2011 and 2012 although the total number of sector jobs increased).

So its fortunate that Canada's real space future is going to be discussed and assessed in both the quiet backrooms and on the raucous public stages of a series of well attended international events and national conferences over the next sixteen months.

Here's a partial list of a few of the more notable events in order of occurrence:
  • First up is the 2014 National Conference of the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA), focused on the business, political and funding issues surrounding “New Manufacturing for NewSpace,” which will be held in Toronto, Ontario on March 13th. The conference will focus on new manufacturing techniques developed using computer-aided design methodologies, solid free form fabrication (including 3D printing), selective laser sintering and other fast developing technologies which promise not just to revolutionize Earth based manufacturing, but space exploration as well. The conference hopes to ask the highly commercial question, "what can space companies learn from domestic manufacturers today?" In the interests of disclosure, its also worth noting that the author of this article is also helping to organize the CSCA conference. 
  • Second up is the 2014 Summer Space Studies Program (SSP) of the International Space University (ISU), which will be held in Montreal, PQ from June 9th - August 8th. This not-for-profit interdisciplinary university was founded in 1987 by Peter Diamandis, Todd Hawley and Robert D. Richards to provide graduate-level training to the future leaders of the emerging global space community from its central campus in Strasbourg, France and at various summer locations throughout the world. ISU has graduated more than 3700 students from over 100 countries and built them into the nearest thing to a "space mafia," a network of professionals and leaders which facilitate both individual careers and "international space cooperation." However, although the CSA is currently listed as one of three Canadian sponsors for the 2014 summer session (along with HEC Montréal and École de Technologie Supérieure) the June 18th, 2012 blog post "Canadian Space Agency "Pulling Financial Support" for International Space University," reported that CSA future funding would be curtailed and CSA representatives could no longer participate on the ISU Board of Directors because of Federal budget cutbacks. Given that, it will certainly be interesting to see what the Summer 2014 organizers, professors and students leave behind in the minds of their Canadian counterparts after classes finish up.
  • With industry focused on business and academics focused on space studies, the international legal community will be queuing up for the 2nd Manfred Lachs International Conference on Global Space Governance, which will be held in Montreal, PQ from May 29th - 31st. The conference, organized by the world renown McGill University Centre for Research in Air and Space Law, will focus on issues not formally addressed since the 3rd United Nations Conference on the Exploration and Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNISPACE III) and related to the further development of a legal infrastructure governing space activities. These include security and space issues, the role of the private sector in global space governance, telecommunications issues (such as the equitable sharing of radio frequencies and orbital positions), human space flight, aerospace transportation issues, space based natural resources, and space-based solar power. Say what you want about lawyers, but the development of a consistent and practical infrastructure governing interactions is the key to both the development of commercial opportunities and the continued exploration of the high frontier. 
  • And finally, the 2015 International Space Development Conference (ISDC2015), the annual conference of the US based National Space Society (NSS), will be held in Toronto, Ontario from May 20th - 25th, 2015. Locally organized by the same CSCA which is also organizing the "New Manufacturing for NewSpace Conference" in March 2014, this later event is expected to focus on commercial activities and tie together lessons learned from the earlier events. Its also the first time the NSS has held an ISDC outside of the continental US since 1994.
All things considered, it sounds like the Canadian space industry should stand by for adventure. Let's hope that the Harper government can keep up with the legal sector, the academic sector and the private sector as our next great space age continues to unfold. 

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