Sunday, March 19, 2017

Part 1: A History of the Canadian Space Program - Policies & Lessons Learned Coping with Modest Budgets

Abstract, Introduction & The 1950's

By Graham Gibbs & W. M. ("Mac") Evans
Canada's contribution to the ISS. Photo c/o CSA.
This paper, first presented at the 65th International Astronautical Congress, which was held in Toronto, Ontario from September 29th - October 3rd, 2014, is a brief history of the Canadian space program, written by two of the major participants. 
Graham Gibbs represented the Canadian space program for twenty-two years, the final seven as Canada’s first Counselor for (US) Space Affairs based at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC. 
W.M. "Mac" Evans, a career public servant, has provided vision in planning and implementing Canada’s space plans for many decades and was president of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) from 1994 - 2001.
The paper is reproduced with the permission of the authors. As outlined by Gibbs, "Re the interesting Canada150 series you are running, you might be interested in posting the Paper (attached) Mac Evans and I wrote for the International Astronautical Congress that was held in Toronto in 2014." 
We are. Part one begins below.


The Canadian Space Program began at the dawn of the space age during the International Geophysical Year in 1957-1958. 
With the launch of the scientific Alouette 1 satellite in 1962 Canada became the third nation in space. Since then Canada has achieved many “firsts in space” and has established itself as a world recognized space faring nation. Thirty years after entering the space era in 1988, Canada formally became a partner in the then G-7 Space Station program with the signing of the Agreements governing the program, which in 1998 became the International Space Station (ISS) when Russia became a partner. Canada is a leader in radar-based Earth observation, upper atmosphere research, advanced satellite communications technologies, space robotics and much more. 
Canada’s space program, despite its modest beginnings and continuing modest funding, has achieved unprecedented success. This success is largely due to reasoned government space policies during the most formative years of Canada’s space program. 
This paper is, for the most part, an update of a paper authored by W.M. (Mac) Evans and published in the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI) Journal (CASJ) [i].
The current paper also provides an analysis of the lessons we have learned from these thoughtful earlier government space policies of how a small space faring nation, from a funding perspective, can hold its own and cooperate with major space faring nations such as the United States/NASA and Europe/European Space Agency.


It is remarkable that today the Canadian Space Agency partners’ with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in all the major public space sector disciplines, which are:
  • Human space flight (robotics for the US space shuttle, now retired, and the International Space Station) 
  • An astronaut program
  • Life and microgravity science research 
  • Earth science and observation (with instruments on NASA space craft and our own RADARSAT program) 
  • Astronomy, including our contribution to the US led James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and our own Microvariability and Oscillations of Stars telescope (MOST)
  • Heliophysics, and planetary exploration through contributions to NASA’s robotic exploration of Mars
In addition we collaborate with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (supporting the Canadian and US Ice Services to ensure safe shipping in the arctic), and the US Geological Survey. 
Canada is also the only non-European cooperating member of the European Space Agency (ESA) a partnership we have enjoyed since 1979. The Canadian Space Agency cooperates with other space faring nations, such as Japan, on a case- by-case or mission-by-mission basis.
There is no question that Canada has “punched above its weight” in space, whether it be in the realm of communications, earth observation, science or robotics. This phenomenal achievement has been possible through informed space policy development in Canada especially during the first thirty years of Canada’s space program. 
We now address the history of the development of space policy in Canada as first articulated by William (Mac) Evans in his paper for the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Journal of March 2004. The underlying thesis is that these policies have been fundamental to the technological and operational success of our national space program for more than four decades.

The 1950's

While the concepts of space flight had been around for centuries it wasn’t until after the Second World War that rocket technologies needed for such adventures were successfully tested.
While primarily driven by the post-war race between the Soviet Union and the United States to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles, the development of rocket technology gave the world’s scientists a new tool in their on-going research into the earth and its environment. Thus, it is not surprising that when the International Geophysical Year (IGY) was designated (July 1957 to December 1958) as a comprehensive series of global geophysical activities; this new tool provided the most significant findings of the IGY. Indeed, it was during the IGY that both the Soviet Union (1957) and the United States (1958) launched their first satellites. 
For decades prior to the IGY, Canadian scientists had been conducting extensive research into the ionosphere in order to improve radio communications between the northern and southern regions of Canada. Communications between these two areas relied on bouncing high frequency radio waves off the ionosphere. But disturbances in the ionosphere associated with magnetic storms and the aurora caused considerable havoc with these essential communications links. 
Since the northern auroral zone passes over Churchill Manitoba our scientists were intrigued with the possibility of probing the ionosphere with scientific instruments mounted on rockets launched from Churchill. They were able to convince the government to offer Churchill Manitoba as a site for launching sounding rockets and in 1955 the Churchill Rocket Range was established with the assistance of the United States. Churchill became a significant site during the IGY and 95 (45%) of the 210 sounding rocket launches made by the US during the IGY were from Churchill. Between 1957 and 1984 (when the range was closed) more than 3,500 sounding rockets were launched from Churchill.
Canada’s first forays into the lower reaches of space were sounding rocket payloads designed and built by research establishments of the Defence Research Board (DRB). Instruments to make measurements of atmospheric chemistry that had been designed by the Canadian Armament Research and Development Establishment (CARDE) in Valcartier Quebec were launched from Churchill in 1958. The next year, the Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment (DRTE) in Ottawa designed and built instruments to measure electron density and the temperature of the ionosphere and these were launched on sounding rockets from Churchill. 
During this same period, CARDE had been developing solid rocket propellants for military purposes. This technology was incorporated into a sounding rocket called Black Brant. The first Black Brant rocket was launched from Churchill in 1959. The technology was transferred to industry (first Canadair and subsequently to Bristol Aerospace in Winnipeg) and since then more than 800 Black Brant rockets have been launched from sites all over the world. 
Early in 1958, in response to the launch by the Soviet Union of Sputnik in October 1957, the United States consolidated its entire civilian aeronautical and space activities into a new organization called the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA was impressed with the success of international cooperation during the IGY and made international cooperation one of its major objectives. 
Consequently, in 1958 the US invited international participation in their scientific space program. The scientists at DRTE who by this time had developed an interest in sounding the ionosphere from above (i.e. from space) responded quickly with a proposal near the end of 1958 to build a satellite to carry a top- side ionospheric sounder – a satellite later to be called Alouette I. 
In April 1959, NASA and DRTE jointly signed an agreement whereby Canada was to supply a satellite and NASA was to provide the launcher. The leader of the Canadian team was John H. Chapman. 
The official announcement of Canada’s intention to build a satellite was made by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker on the occasion of the official opening of the Prince Albert Radar Laboratory in June 1959. 
Looking back, one has to marvel at the audacity of the Canadian proposal and the confidence the Government placed in its scientific community. The Alouette program was approved at a time when rockets were still regularly exploding on the launch pad and those few satellites that actually made it in to orbit were lasting for only a few weeks or months. At the time of the signing of the Alouette agreement, the US had only successfully launched seven satellites. 
While Alouette I was a scientific satellite, its objective was to provide scientific information needed to provide more reliable communications between the northern and southern regions of Canada. Thus Canada entered the space age with a very practical proposition to use the advantages of space to help meet important domestic needs here on earth. Pursuing space applications to meet Canada’s needs has been the hallmark of our space program ever since.

Graham Gibbs & Mac Evans. Photos c/o MyCanada & CSA.
Graham Gibbs represented the Canadian space program for twenty-two years, the final seven as Canada’s first counselor for (US) space affairs based at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, DC. 

He is the author of "Five Ages of Canada - A HISTORY from Our First Peoples to Confederation."

William MacDonald "Mac" Evans served as the president of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) from November 1991 to November 2001, where he led the development of the Canadian astronaut and RADARSAT programs, negotiated Canada’s role in the International Space Station (ISS) and contributed to various international agreements that serve as the foundation of Canada’s current international space partnerships.

He currently serves on the board of directors of Vancouver, BC based UrtheCast.


[i] The Canadian Space Program — Past, Present, and Future (A history of the development of space policy in Canada), W M. (Mac) Evans, Canadian Aeronautics and Space Journal, 2004, 50(1): 19-31, 10.5589/q04-004. Used and updated with permission.
Next Week: "The 1960's, ISIS, Chapman & Telesat" as part two of "A History of the Canadian Space Program: Policies & Lessons Learned Coping with Modest Budgets" continues.

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