Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Needed: A Canadian Defence Space Policy

© 2016 FrontLine Defence (Vol 13, No 5)

It has now been almost three years since the Emerson Report was published – Volume 2 of which was specifically focused on Canada’s Space Sector. Since that time, the Canadian Government has produced the Space Policy Framework, and subsequently changed hands in the 2015 election. The two-part question is: are we further down the road; and, more importantly, are we going in the right direction?
CASSIOPE (CAScade, Smallsat and IOnospheric Polar Explorer) is a Canadian Space Agency multi-mission satellite. The mission is funded through CSA and the Technology Partnerships Canada program. (Photo Credit: University of Calgary)

The Snapshot

Over the past 10 years, Canada’s iconic space agency has had its share of challenges, having ushered in seven different leaders, permanent and interim, even though the position’s term is meant to be for five years. Over that same period, its budget has hovered around $300-350 million (Cdn), on average, with spending per capita below many of its G7-20 friends. And when it appeared there might be some hope on the horizon, with talk about a long-term space plan in 2009, that excitement waned all too quickly. Even so, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has had some remarkable success with Radarsat 1 and 2, the James Webb telescope, Phoenix Mars Lander, Dextre (Canada Arm 2), its cadre of exceptional astronauts, and the soon-to-be-launched Radarsat Constellation mission.

The release of the Space Policy Framework a short while ago was an encouraging sign of positive change but, for the moment, one can only imagine what a truly national unifying space strategy supported by a stably-funded and purposely-focussed plan might achieve.

In a similar vein, amidst many of the same challenges – tight budgets, onerous procurement processes, and shifting political landscapes – the Department of National Defence (DND) has done yeoman’s work delivering extraordinary space-enabled capability for Canada and its allies. And to be fair, they too have done so without the benefit of a new Defence Space Policy that reflects today’s undeniable dependence on space to manage the complex environments, systems, and basic human needs of nations and peoples; that asserts Canada’s responsibility to provide assured and uninterrupted access to space; that underscores its responsibility to protect the vital links that deliver these essential capabilities and services; and that actively promotes Canada’s unique advantage as a global leader in space technology development.

It has been due to the patience and resilience of a small team with big ideas and the support of its leadership that Canadian military space has progressed, but its real potential will come when there is a renewed forward-looking policy to give it the official seal of approval it rightly deserves.

Much like the CSA, DND has also enjoyed some notable successes with Canada’s first military satellite, Sapphire, launched in 2013 and a second satellite, M3MSat, was successfully inserted into its target orbit in June and is undergoing Launch and Early Orbit Procedures (LEOP) to ensure all systems are nominal (or “normal” in space lingo). The next step will be to determine how best to operationalize it for government and possibly private use. In the meantime, RADARSAT-2 continues to provide world-class synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery and data products, while its future complementary capability, RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM), marches steadily towards completion and a planned launch in 2018.
RADARSAT, shown above during testing and assembly at the Canadian Space Agency’s David Florida Laboratory in Ottawa, is a Canadian remote sensing Earth Observation satellite program overseen by the CSA. (Photo: Communications Research Center Canada (CRC))
While this is all great stuff, the real success of its efforts will come once all of the disparate pieces have been knitted together into a cleverly conceived, space-enabled program that makes sense, is affordable, and can be counted on to meet Canada’s evolving needs.

On the commercial side, satellite telecommunications leader Telesat continues to expand its owned and operated fleet of geostationary vehicles, while also beginning to explore LEO systems. MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA), specifically affected by the Ukraine-Russia conflict, has invested more heavily in the U.S. sector and most recently has replaced its Canadian CEO with an American one.

COM DEV International Ltd, in a largely unopposed move, was sold to U.S.-owned Honeywell, with exactEarth (formerly a jointly-owned COM DEV company, based in Cambridge, Ontario) spun off to chart its own path, and now poised to advance new growth in Automatic Identification System (AIS) services and smart applications in collaboration with U.S.-based Harris Corporation and Canadian-based Larus Technologies.

Vancouver-based Urthecast, previously known for its ISS-hosted cameras, now operates a two-satellite imaging constellation called Deimos, is working on the first publicly accessible high definition cameras installed on the International Space Station (ISS), and has ambitious plans to field a 24-satellite OptiSAR constellation – although its major backers are currently south of the Canadian border.

While the global preoccupations of our preeminent space companies are worthy of praise, we’d do them far better service with a well-managed home-grown market to truly showcase both their value and worth. For the moment, in spite of a few promising starts, we see no national strategy or commitment to truly embolden Canadian Space companies to be first and foremost leaders in their own backyards, before stepping out into other markets to test their mettle. We could do better, and we should.

Monitoring the Arctic

Still in the shadow of its Crimea annexation, Russia continues to support ISS trips for astronauts, but has also been hedging its space access bets by building a new spaceport in eastern Russia. Provocatively, it has also been accused of flying at least one of its space systems suspiciously-close to an Intelsat satellite in geostationary orbit and then close to another one later.

While much attention has been given to Russian transgressions in Crimea and the Ukraine, and rightly so, it is the rapid acceleration of their Arctic activities – in particular the staging of Russian military bases, and increased undersea activities, exploratory, mapping, and whatever else – that seems to have largely gone unnoticed or, at the very least, dismissed as nothing more than internal politics for Russian public consumption.

Keeping a watchful eye on the north, with the help of more persistent and cooperative space-enabled earth observation capabilities – that take advantage of the best in multispectral and voice-data payload technologies – sends the message that Canada is both serious about the north and, most importantly, capable and willing to monitor and protect it. Investment today is the insurance for tomorrow.

China’s forward march into space also continues unabated. Recently, they have unveiled new space station plans that include an invitation to the international community to leverage it for future research. This clearly flies in the face of the dubious ISS future (guaranteed out to 2024, but after that?); and U.S. intransigence towards cooperating more openly with China may heighten the anxiety around a low-Earth orbit accessibility gap for human launch and exploration.

(Image: Analytical Graphics, Inc)
Among the more than 8700 objects larger than 10 cm in Earth orbits, only about 6% are operational satellites – the remainder is space debris. A major concern is that impact by such debris could damage operational equipment such as a satellite or the International Space Station.

Expectations are high that China will have its own satellite navigation system, named Beidou, operational by 2020, which, if Europe’s Galileo constellation stays on track, may mean your multi-channel GPS device could have up to four systems to choose from. China has also been ‘talking the talk’ vis-à-vis space debris and its management/mitigation, but the continued impact from its (still largely unexplained) 2007 anti-satellite test significantly mars their credibility in this area.

Beyond that, China is largely believed to be investing in counter-space capabilities to assure its space forces access to the domain while also denying others.
(Images: Canadian Space Agency)

With MDA’s steady transition to a US-based company with a Canadian subsidiary, will RCM be the last flagship of space capability to be developed in Canada?

Frustrations and Hope

Although there is still no official, comprehensive Canadian Space Program (the closest thing still being the Space Policy Framework), the Canadian government has at least begun to consider a few options, such as: a Sapphire follow-on capability; a future GEO and polar voice and data communications satellite system; and a future RCM follow-on system. But without a defined program with clear results and expectations, is the Canadian government gambling in the face of the current threat?
M3MSat, a joint project funded by Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) and the CSA, was launched from India in June 2016. (Photo: Honeywell (Formerly COM DEV))
Dialogue with Russia is probably at an all-time low, and discerning China’s ‘real’ intentions across the space spectrum is never certain. In short, these two actors are not waiting for Canada to figure out its Space Program, nor its (related) procurement process.

To make matters worse, the struggling Canadian space industry has been forced to shift towards more international opportunities that may or may not align their technological capabilities with the near and far-term needs of Canada. This can be particularly detrimental when one considers that the innovative capacity of our space sector is its key strength, which means, a defective investment/procurement process is its key weakness.

Former CSA President Walt Natynczyk experienced some early success with bold steps to align a focused vision to an achievable reality – all with a view of helping ordinary Canadians, and its government, to understand the true value and potential of Space, first in terms of its extraordinary impact on our everyday lives, and ultimately why being in Space is far less a choice than an obligation. But General Walt was larger than life; and breathing the same enthusiasm into a Canadian Key Industrial Capability (KIC) such as Space was, is, and should be, is no single champion’s job.

Current CSA President Sylvain Laporte needs and deserves the support of a determined government. Will we see new life infused into the once-promising Space Advisory Group, or even the Parliamentary Space Caucus (an initiative that former Conservative MP Jay Aspin once championed)?

It falls to the government, no matter its stripes, to lead by example, and not simply to rest on its words. It has the opportunity – one might say an obligation – to demonstrate its resolve through concrete action, buttressed by well-conceived and directed policies that set immutable goals, and which drive the agenda forward to achieve the lasting results for Canada and its Space Community.

Will this be Canada’s Neil-Armstrong-moment to take that small, but so vitally important next step, or will it be left to watch on the sidelines as others increasingly leap ahead?

This fall, the Canadian Space Society will be hosting its 15th Annual Space Summit – a gathering of space industry, academia and government stakeholders – in Winnipeg, Manitoba, with the hope of invigorating new and necessary dialogue to move this important agenda forward.

Rick Pitre is a retired Brigadier-General and former Director General Space at DND. He is currently President of Terizons Consulting.

Wayne A. Ellis is Vice-President of the Canadian Space Society, and a Solutions Consultant with AppSpace Solutions.