The Canadian Space Program

For this new Space Law article on Space Legal Issues, let us have a look at the Canadian space program.

October 1957, Sputnik 1 becomes the first artificial satellite in Earth orbit. We are in the middle of the Cold War, the tactical needs increase. Canada saw the opportunity to join the American astronautics research community through bilateral agreements. The result is a space race in which Canada has contributed to almost every mission in History.

Despite the successes associated with the creation of the Alouette 1 satellite and the Black Brant sounding rocket (whose launch almost resulted in a nuclear fire), the Canadian government does not wish to create a national space agency to coordinate its activities. In 1962, after the announcement by the American President J.F. Kennedy on the creation of a lunar space mission, the country made the feet of the module and has made possible for the Americans to land on our satellite. The same year, it became the third country to own a satellite in Earth orbit.

The country then developed its relations with the other international space powers by becoming, for example, a Member State of the European Space Agency.

It then took part in the project to create the International Space Station (ISS) and successfully created a robotic arm capable of moving along the structure, Canadarm 2. At the same time, the country is building its own astronaut corps.

In 1989 Canada finally created a national space agency, the John H. Chapman Centre, considered to be the father of Canadian’s space law having worked all his life on the country’s first space projects and having militated for the creation of such an agency.

Canada has become a pioneer in satellite communications and Earth observation in response to the needs of a population scattered over thousands of kilometers, as well as the need to monitor the world’s longest coastline and second-largest territory.


Canada’s space program is dynamic, sustainable, collaborative and inspiring. The Financial Report for 2020–2021 and the report on national public consultations on future space efforts identify five objectives.

First, it is about ensuring the growth of the Canadian space sector. Space technologies are linked to the economy as a whole and are achieving favorable results in other markets, such as telecom imaging services for natural resources, funding for technology in the field of Artificial Intelligence and robotics applicable in the medical community, or conducting climate change related activities in the atmosphere.

This objective then joins the second one: to take advantage of space for the benefit of Canadians. Space-based data is essential to government to provide services to Canadians such as weather forecasts, to ensure citizens’ safety and security or to provide an internet connection to rural and remote areas.

The third objective is based on innovation and exploration of space. Priority is given to the lunar exploration accelerator program, which consists of investing 150 million over five years, 2.05 billion over 24 years in innovative technologies. This then allows for the manufacture of Canadarm 3, the new robotic arm that descends directly from those that equipped the space shuttles and the ISS. The Canadian Space Agency will work hand in hand with private companies, including Ontario-based Canadensys Aerospace Corporation, to launch a low-power 360° camera to capture panoramic images of the Moon’s surface.

As well as Quebec company NGC Aerospace Ltd for the development of a positioning system similar to the GPS technology used on Earth to guide lunar vehicles and ensure their safety. Innovation and exploration of space is also based on the exploitation of the Radarsat Constellation mission, which provides near-realtime earth observation data, making it possible for example, to monitor maritime surveillance, ecosystems and potential natural disasters. The participation in other projects such as the International Space Station is also part of this third pillar of Canada’s space program.

Then, it is a question of strengthening long-term partnerships. The conquest of space is built around its utility for mankind. Therefore space missions are often cooperative initiatives. The International Space Station proves that despite the geopolitical tensions on Earth, space is a unique field that has encouraged close collaboration between countries around the world. Indeed, Ram Jakhu, professor at the McGill University Institute of Air and Space Law, said that the ISS is the best example of international cooperation ever. The knowledge shared through international cooperation is helping to manage global challenges such as climate change or understanding and combating the spread of viruses such as Covid-19.

Finally, the last pillar of the Canadian space program is to inspire the next generation. The Canadian flag that is most photographed in space and must continue to inspire the younger generation. Some Canadian’s astronauts have made their mark on the world through their communications, such as Chris Hadfield singing David Bowie on the ISS. They are helping to keep the younger interest. In addition, the implementation of programs aimed at young people, such as the Junior Astronaut Campaign and the CubeSats initiative, help to spark their curiosity.