Diana Da Silva

The Canadian Space Agency and its Space Program

The Canadian Space Agency is the space agency of Canada. It was established on March 1, 1989 by the Canadian Space Agency Act, which was proclaimed in December 1990. This space agency is unique in that it employs 600 people and manages a budget of approximately $400 million Canadian dollars to plan and manage Canada’s space programs, to increase and disseminate space expertise in Canadian industry and to promote the use of space applications.

When it was created, the 1990 Act establishing the Agency outlined the 4 main missions of the Agency, which are to assist the appropriate Minister in coordinating space policies and programs; to plan and carry out programs and projects related to industrial and scientific space research and space technology applications; to promote the transfer and dissemination of space technology for the benefit of the space industry; and to encourage the commercial exploitation of space capabilities, technologies, facilities and systems.

Thus, it differs from other space agencies in the world because unlike other agencies such as NASA or the European Space Agency (ESA), the Canadian Space Agency does not aim to develop a more or less independent space program in order to gain access to space. It partners with other agencies in order to collaborate at lower cost on major space projects such as the International Space Station (ISS) or the James Webb Space Telescope. And for good reason, the Canadian Space Agency has no facilities for launches beyond the upper atmosphere. Canada depends on other countries such as the United States, India and Russia to launch its spacecraft into orbit. The Canadian Space Agency dedicates its resources and activities to three key objectives:

  • The Space Data, Information and Services program, which brings together space applications in the field of Earth Observation, for example. This mission is to respond to national priorities such as sovereignty, defense, security, resource management, environmental monitoring and Arctic regions through the use of space satellites. The flagship project of this program is RADARSAT, which was launched in 1995 and is still in operation. It is Canada’s first commercial Earth observation satellite, which is equipped with a powerful synthetic aperture radar, and can acquire images of the Earth day and night, regardless of weather conditions, cloud cover, or the presence of smoke and fog. This program represents up to 50% of the space agency’s investment;
  • The Knowledge and Innovation through Space Exploration program, which brings together scientific research and space technology projects. The main project under this program is Canada’s participation in the International Space Station. Indeed, the Canadian Space Agency participated in the creation of the International Space Station by providing it with part of its telecommunications system as well as the main systems used to assemble the station and handle its spare parts and external scientific experiments. This allowed the Canadian Space Agency to have 2.3% of the rights to use the Station, which translates into the relatively frequent presence of Canadian astronauts on the Station’s crew. The development of scientific instruments on board missions of other agencies is also part of this program. This program represents approximately 30% of the space agency’s capital budget;
  • Canada’s program to maintain and enhance Canada’s space capabilities, which aims to maintain a minimum number of space technology specialists.

A new impetus for the Canadian Space Agency with the Canadian Space Program in collaboration with NASA

The nations of the world are beginning a new chapter in space exploration and Canada will play an important role. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada’s new partnership for the Lunar Gateway project in 2019. Led by NASA, this project will allow a group of astronauts to return to the Moon as part of the “Artemis” space project for further exploration of Mars in the coming years. The Lunar “Gateway” will be a lunar outpost for astronauts to inhabit. It will also be equipped with a docking module for visiting spacecraft and research laboratories. Canada will develop an intelligent robotic system, Canadarm3, to repair and maintain the Gateway Station. The Canadian Space Agency will also send its first astronaut to the Moon as part of the crew that is scheduled to go to the Moon.

This project marks the beginning of a new era of Canadian excellence in space. This partnership will be the cornerstone of Canada’s ambitious new space strategy. The Government of Canada will invest $2.05 billion over 24 years in support of our space program. This investment will create hundreds of jobs over the next 10 years, including jobs for scientists, engineers, technicians and programmers. It will also allow Canadian astronauts to participate in space missions and our scientists to conduct cutting-edge research that cannot be done on Earth.

The race for space motorcycles between the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R.

The space race, a famous term used to define the period of the beginning of the conquest of space by States, allowed many scientific advances and marked the second half of the twentieth century. It was marked, at its beginnings, by strong competition between the United States of America and the U.S.S.R., for reasons of national prestige linked to the Cold War. But if most of the States were content, at the time, to put in place the necessary means to send men and women into space, and to explore outer space, the United States and Russia already had in mind the will to create space motorcycles capable of riding on the lunar ground.

It is the appearance of the race for space motorcycles between the United States of America and the U.S.S.R.. This race for space motorcycles began at the end of the 1960s, at the same time as the conquest of space itself. Indeed, NASA’s Spacecraft Design Division in Houston, Texas, began designing a minibike specifically for use on the Moon in the late 1960s. They wanted it to be small, portable and ideally foldable so that they would not have to redesign their existing landing vehicle.

The major problem NASA had at that time was not knowing what the surface of the moon looked like. Since the conquest of the moon was too recent, space agencies still lacked information about the composition of the moon and conditions in space, which made it difficult to develop American spacecraft. In addition, they did not have the same mathematical knowledge at that time as they do today, which made the design of space motorcycles more complicated. Another factor to consider was the weight of the space suits, which were extremely heavy and weakened the space motorcycles under their weight. The U.S. Space Agency had floated the idea of making metal tires to increase their resistance to the weight of the astronauts.

In the end, American space motorcycles never saw the light of day and were never sent into space, as NASA opted for the creation of the Lunar Rover (LVR), a battery-powered four-wheel rover used and sent to the Moon in the last three missions of the American Apollo 15, 16, and 17 program during 1971 and 1972, also known as Moon buggies. These moon buggies are easier to use than space motorcycles and can carry up to two astronauts at a time, whereas a space motorcycle could only carry one.

Meanwhile, Russia (the U.S.S.R. at the time) in the early 1960s, had called on the manufacturer Zvedza and the Soviet military station Almaz to develop prototypes of maneuverable space vehicles that unfortunately never took off. The idea sought by the Soviets was to allow cosmonauts to roll easily between space stations. In the end, neither of the two states were able to complete the design of these space motorcycles and this mission ended up being forgotten by the states in favor of other more important and accessible missions.

The Failure of the Launch of the French Taranis Satellite

On the night of November 16-17, 2020, the French Taranis satellite, conceptualised by the French Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies Commission (CEA) and the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS), took off from the Guyana Space Center in Kourou, aboard the European Vega rocket, in order to study, for a duration of 2 to 4 years in orbit, the transitory light phenomena caused by storms. Unfortunately, this mission ended in failure, since the satellite was lost only 8 minutes after its launch.

This study would have been a spectacular breakthrough in the field, since these light phenomena are still a mystery today. Indeed, transient light phenomena had been studied for the first time in 1994 by the Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory, the observatory of celestial sources of X-rays and gamma rays embarked on the American shuttle Atlantis. Other complementary studies had been made thereafter, in particular within the Italian space laboratory Clay in 2007 and with the American space telescope Fermi in 2008, but none of these studies had made it possible to completely confirm the current assumptions on the mechanism which generated the transitory luminous phenomena, nor their number and the Taranis satellite was precisely to bring additional information on their appearances, their mechanism and their radiative impact.

A commission of inquiry was opened following this incident by Arianespace and the European Space Agency, in order to understand the origins of this mission’s failure. According to initial analyses, the destruction of the satellite was caused by an anomaly encountered on the Vega rocket that deviated its trajectory. It is 15 years of design and work on this satellite that were thus destroyed.

This failure, unfortunately, is not the only launch failure in the space world since the creation of the conquest of space. Space accidents are numerous and can sometimes lead to the death of astronauts when they are sent on a space mission. These accidents then lead to legal questions, not only in terms of space environmental law, since space accidents result in a lot of space debris that is dangerous for human security, but also on the question of who is responsible for space accidents.

The failures of the European launcher Arianespace’s space missions in the history of the conquest of space since the launch of Ariane 1

The Ariane 1 rocket took off for the first time on December 24, 1979. In 1973, after the repeated failures of the Europa rocket, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Ariane program to ensure Europe’s access to space independently of the United States and Russia. The prime contractor is entrusted to France through CNES, and the first rocket will carry out 11 launches (including two failures) between 1979 and 1986.

The first launch failure took place on May 23, 1980 during the second launch attempt of the Ariane 1 rocket. The launcher explodes at the time of takeoff. On September 9, 1982, another Ariane 1 rocket stopped a few minutes after takeoff and grounded in the Atlantic Ocean.

The second failure takes place in 1985, at the time of the launch of the Ariane 3 rocket, one year after its first launch. Then, in the 1990s, Arianespace considerably accelerated the pace of its missions with the development of the telecommunications sector. More powerful than its predecessors, Ariane 4 successfully completed its first launch on June 15, 1988. Until 2003, the rocket carried out 116 missions, including three failures, to put more than 180 satellites into orbit. It triples the capacity of Ariane 3 by being able to carry payloads ranging from 2,000 to 4,800 kilograms.

Finally, on June 4, 1996, the first launch of the Ariane 5 rocket took place, which ended in failure. During its first launch, the rocket deviated from its trajectory and had to be self-destructed by Arianespace teams. The rocket’s debris fell as rain in the Guyanese jungle, and the police had to evacuate certain areas because of the risk of toxic gas. The second launch on October 30, 1997 ended in partial failure. It was not until October 21, 1998 with the V-112/503 mission that the first success of Ariane 5 was observed. With 106 launches between 1995 and 2019, Ariane 5 experienced a second failure on December 11, 2002, for the inaugural flight of the Ariane 5 ECA version. The shuttle exploded and losses were estimated at 640 million euros in a difficult period for the large satellite market. Mission failures are therefore frequent risks associated with this activity, which is why international law has provided a framework for this activity.

The Legal Regime Applicable to Liability for Damages Related to Space Activities

Many damages can occur as a result of space activities. To regulate this, there is a regime applicable to liability for damage caused by space objects.

Thus, what would have been the liability regime if the Taranis satellite, when it exploded in airspace, had caused damage to third parties ?

To answer this question, reference should be made to the 1972 International Treaty on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects. It follows from this regime that States, considered as launching States under the Treaties (the 1967 Space Treaty laying the common ground for all the general principles of space law), bear an obligation to register space objects, as well as liability. First of all, launching States have an obligation to register space objects in order to determine the nature and origin of an object launched into space, but also to know which State will bear the international responsibility attached to this space object. In the absence of registration, the launching State will not be able to benefit from the provisions of space law and general public international law will have to be applied. As far as liability is concerned, it has a double meaning. First, there is liability for damage caused to third parties as a result of a space operation. This liability is qualified as absolute as soon as damage is caused on earth or in the airspace, the victim is thus exempted from proving the fault of the launching State, it will be up to him to prove that he has suffered damage caused by a space object. The objective here is to facilitate recourse by victims against a launching State.

On the other hand, what would happen if the Taranis satellite was actually in orbit in outer space, and had collided with another satellite ?

In this case, the 1972 treaty provides that the liability is “for fault” as soon as the damage occurs in outer space. This is explained by the fact that here, the damage is caused to another launching State under the Treaties. It would therefore have been necessary for the State injured by the collision to prove fault on the part of the French space agency in order to engage the liability of France for the damage caused by the collision of the Taranis. Of course, this regime applies as long as the victim of the damage is a State, but what if the Taranis satellite had been sent by a private company ? Indeed, the 1970s and especially the 1980s saw the rise of private and commercial space activities, in particular through the creation of private launch companies that made it possible to offer launch services to private companies operating commercial satellites.

As a result, space law had to adapt to these new purely private activities. The United States was the first State to adopt legislation dedicated to space activities carried out by private entities under the application of US law (US Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984, amended several times). Other states, such as Great Britain (Outer-Space Act of 1986), quickly followed the United States. It was not until 2008 that France adopted legislation specific to space activities with the adoption of the Space Operations Act of 3 June 2008, number 2008-518.

These national legislations have different scopes of application, but have in common the fact that the activities of private entities falling under the application of these laws are regulated by means of authorization or licensing regimes. Indeed, States bear international responsibility under the international treaties for space activities carried out by private national entities, and it is therefore imperative that they authorize, control and monitor private or commercial space activities. States will subsequently be able to bring a recourse action against the private company.

In any event, despite the failure of the Taranis mission and the risks that space activities can represent, the players involved in the Taranis project are already thinking about the next launch: “We will correct and come back stronger“, said Arianespace’s CEO, who offered his “apologies” to the customers and builders of the lost satellite, while assuring that future launches operated by Arianespace would be maintained.

Jean-Louis Pinçon, in charge of scientific coordination of the project for the CNRS, also confirmed on Wednesday, November 18, 2020, the willingness to retry a new Taranis project: “We are already studying the possibility of a Taranis 2. The first feedback from CNES on this subject is very positive and we have started to think about what this will imply in terms of budget and human resources. But it is still too early to say that the reconstruction of Taranis is a given“.

Understanding the United States Space Force Lunar Patrols

In 2019, U.S. President Donald Trump declared his intention to develop a U.S. space force. Supervised by Chief of Staff Joseph Dunford, it would then become the sixth independent branch of the United States military. Thus, on December 20, 2019, the United States Space Force (USSF) was created to conduct military operations in space to protect U.S. assets and interests. To operate, the USSF relies on the space assets of the United States Air Force, namely government satellites and two Boeing X-37 shuttles, which for several years now have been operating secret, unmanned missions in orbit. In other words, at present, the USSF does not send any military personnel into space, but this could change.

Indeed, the debate over the possibility of sending military patrol vessels into space to protect U.S. interests has been open since the official speech of Major General John Shaw, Chief of the Space Operations Command of the Space Force, on September 29, 2020. He said, “At some point, yes, we will put humans in space. They will then be able to operate command centers somewhere in the lunar environment or elsewhere“. These words were later qualified in early October by Lieutenant General David D. Thompson, U.S. Deputy Commander of the U.S. Space Force, to reassure international partners and the public who accused the USSF of hiding certain military activities: “the construction of a military base on the Moon was not on the agenda, especially because the robots are doing a very good job at the moment“.

Military space patrol vessels are therefore being considered by the USSF, but this will not be in the near future. Lieutenant David D. Thompson speaks of a decade before lunar patrol ships can be deployed. This project echoes a doctrine that appeared in August saying that the service must prepare for a future when the moon and the volume of space around it could become the next military frontier.

But what are the U.S. Space Force’s expected goals in sending lunar patrol ships?

As the head of the U.S. Space Force, General John Raymond, reminds us, “we want to help prevent conflicts in space, not trigger them“. But while today’s military space activities extend no further than satellites in geostationary orbit, tomorrow’s commercial space activity and future U.S. capabilities have the potential to extend the reach of U.S. interests to the Moon and beyond in the longer term. “It will therefore be the responsibility of the U.S. Space Force to ensure the security of our interests wherever they are in space“, and if they “extend beyond geostationary orbit, then we will deploy beyond that as well“. As David D. Thompson said in a DefenceOne web conference, “we must prepare for the possibility of increased human activity on the Moon and its colonisation, which may require a military presence“. To do this, it will be necessary for the U.S. Space Force to prepare patrol vessels to understand the environment and to have space awareness capabilities to be able to carry out the assigned missions, which will necessarily take time.

In order to effectively prepare for this mission, NASA, in collaboration with the U.S. Space Force, is soliciting the help of private companies that invest in space projects. Indeed, American commercial companies are developing deep space technologies previously exclusively reserved for governments, ranging from space communications to navigation to lunar landing systems. Space awareness technologies are a fundamental component of the infrastructure needed to support a cislunar economy, and are critical to the successful completion of space missions. For example, the Space Vehicle Directorate is planning to hold a conference for interested contractors during 2021 at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico (if the health crisis allows them to maintain this conference).

NASA and the U.S. Space Force have also partnered in a broad agreement that will eventually allow the U.S. Space Force to conduct human spaceflight, provide space transportation and space security expertise to U.S. interests, as well as scientific research and planetary defense, according to a recent NASA statement. NASA explicitly wanted to sign such an agreement in order to be able to protect space projects currently underway on the Moon, such as Project Artemis, which plans to send astronauts to the Moon and build sustainable lunar infrastructure, so that it can conquer Mars in the coming years. NASA does not hide the fact that the viable and sustainable exploration of the Moon and Mars is based on the use of natural resources. Thus, the U.S. Space Force, which is dedicated to protecting American interests in space, both in terms of space infrastructure and low-orbit activities, will be required to ensure the security of Americans and the economy on the Moon.

Indeed, the threats and risks to which the first lunar explorers will be exposed will be essentially related to traffic management, meteorological (radiation, solar activity) and meteorite (fall, collision) surveillance, as well as communication security (cuts, jamming). These are dangerous activities where the protection of lunar patrol boats will be necessary. That said, in the longer term, if diplomatic relations between the United States, Russia and China do not improve, nothing can legally prevent Chinese or Russians from disembarking within a short distance of the Artemis Base Camp. And even less from exploiting the same deposit of a lunar resource: this is also why lunar patrol boats are greatly considered by the United States of America.