Canadian firms are boldly playing their part in being present in today’s space race.
Canada spends very little on its space program compared to other countries, both in terms of its outlay in dollars and relative to GDP.
The country spent $434 million in 2016, yet by comparison, the US spent nearly $35 billion, China nearly $5 billion, and Russia nearly $4 billion. For 2019, India increased its budget for space by 11 per cent to $1.8 billion
Increasingly, however–and certainly in the case of Canada–private industry is picking up the slack.
The new global space race
Fifty years since the moon landing, the space race has changed from a Cold War, state-funded enterprise to a privately backed industry as companies and venture capitalists race to grab the next great business opportunity, one that some analysts believe could eventually be worth $1 trillion per year.
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Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic pick up the majority of headlines, yet according to Space Angels, a venture capitalist group specializing in space startups, the number of privately funded space companies has grown to 375, a near fourteen-fold increase since 2000.
Space Angels says those companies have raised a total of nearly $19 billion in private capital, and Canadian firms are right in the thick of the action.
NorthStar is one of several high-tech Canadian space-focused companies with either existing projects or exciting ideas in the pipeline. The Montreal-based company is creating a system of satellite-based hyper-spectral, infrared, and optical sensors to continuously monitor and analyze Earth’s orbit.
Indeed, while such projects don’t quite garner the headlines they used to, more than 3,300 commercial satellites over 50 kilograms in weight will be launched between 2018 and 2027, according to a March 2019 report by Research and Markets.
Yet there are also much smaller satellites, or nanosatellites, weighing between one and 10 kilograms, in development; picosatellites weighing less than one kilogram—and even femtosatellites, weighing just 10 to 100 grams.
Toronto-based Kepler Communications currently has two small satellites in space—launched on Chinese and Indian rockets—with plans to add 138 more within three years. These weigh about 10 kilograms and are about the size of a large loaf of bread.
The cost to launch such satellites ranges between $30,000 and $50,000 per kilogram.
The importance of talent
Mina Mitry, Kepler’s co-founder and CEO, believes Canada is well positioned to make inroads in space thanks in part to a highly educated hi-tech workforce.
“We’re very fortunate to be based here in Toronto with marquee access to talent from the University of Toronto, from Waterloo university, from McMaster and all these neighbouring universities that feed directly into our business,” she told CBC.
That talent is helping several Canadian firms make inroads in the sector, including Waterloo’s SkyWatch, Edmonton’s Wyvern, Mississauga’s Macfab, and Ottawa’s Mission Control.
Indeed, Canada’s space industry produced revenues of $5.6 billion and contributed $2.3 billion to GDP in 2017, according to the Canadian Space Agency’s State of the Canadian Space Sector Report 2018.
Fifty years after Neil Armstrong first set foot on the Moon, the potential for space technology is greater than ever, and Canada is boldly playing its part.