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.