Opportunity and Risk Ahead for Canada's Space Industry

©SpaceRef

Canada in Space

At the First Canadian Aerospace Summit hosted by the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada in Ottawa yesterday a distinguished group of leaders was brought together for the Canadian Aerospace Leaders Panel moderated by Canadian Space Agency (CSA) President Dr. Steve MacLean. The theme of the panel was "Does Canada need an aerospace industrial base?" The message from industry leaders was clear, for industry to be successful the government must play an important role, especially when it comes to helping industry with foreign markets. There are opportunities but there is also risk as the domestic market is small and can't sustain the industry on its own.

The panel consisted of Mr. Mag Iskander, President, Information System, MDA, Mr. Iain Christie, President, Neptec Design Inc., Mr. Daniel Goldberg, President & CEO, Telesat, Mr. Michael Pley, CEO ComDev International.

In moderating the panel MacLean managed to insert many short thoughts in between questions and answers that was relevant to the discussion.

Before he posed questions to the panel for discussion MacLean in a short introduction mentioned an analogy pointing out that upcoming improvements in communication and weather services for Canada's northern regions will be like bringing the railroad across Canada in 1867. Presumably he was referring to what the Canadian Space Agency hopes will be Canada's next major program, the Polar Communication and Weather Satellite mission.

The panel spent a considerable amount of time talking about the role of government in the sector. All the panel members brought up different examples of why the government was important with Telesat's Daniel Goldberg characterising the role as "critical".

Iain Christie of Neptec said the role of government can be summed up in three letters, FLY. As in getting hardware in space. He said industry must "beg, borrow, buy, fund, or find ways to get our stuff on orbit." And that flying hardware leads to two important words "flight heritage" and that "government is really our only route to getting that."

For his part MacLean said that he had on several occasions when speaking with Prime Minister Harper tried, and he thinks Haper got it, convey the following sentence; "In the face of government priorities, space and our assets should be an essential element of government infrastructure as we move forward." He then went on to say "that infrastructure is something that implies that the government needs to be involved" and that is where I (CSA) comes in.

For Mag Iskander of MDA the role of government is to provide direction. "We need collaboration in the government, industry and academia so that we have long term planning process, we have a direction." He then went on to say that the domestic market is small and that companies need to export which is where government can help.

Two other important topics were discussed, emerging markets and the upcoming industry aerospace review the government plans to do.

At the luncheon talk Industry Minister Christian Paradis told the audience the review will start early next year and that it expects it to be completed before the end of the year.

MacLean noted at the end of the panel that he was happy that the space systems sector will be a part of the review and that portions of the long awaited Long Term Space Plan would be included.

Emerging markets provide a great opportunity for industry so long as the government helps. MacLean said he had recently spent two weeks in China. It's the second time this year that MacLean has been to China. He first went in April to begin preliminary talks about future cooperation between the nations.

Maclean noted that Canada had signed two major treaties recently. The first in 2009 with United States and most recently a 10 year extension with the European Space Agency. He also mentioned that the Canadian Space Agency very recently got cabinet approval to go ahead and negotiate a treaty with Russia and that it should be signed shortly. This will facilitate Canadian industry access to Russia. He also said that Canada has begun talks about a treaty with China and hopes in the future to sign an agreement. No timetable for a signed treaty has been released though. However this has no doubt pleased industry as they are anxious to get into China.

Other than China and Russia, industry sees India as a major emerging market with companies needing to have a presence and integration facilities in these markets.

MacLean made some important concluding statements including saying "we are at a crossroads and that the long term plan is essential to our success." This is second time in recent weeks MacLean has said we are a crossroads. The previous mention was at the Standing Committee on Natural Resources on October 24th. With the government currently in pre-budget consultations it would seem he was sending his own message. Industry is sending its message as well. The government appears to be listening but will it act? Most likely not in time for the budget but perhaps after the aerospace review.

The other comment MacLean made in his closing remarks was "space can change your GDP value". That's a thought that should resonate with everyone.