The 67th annual International Astronautical Congress wrapped up recently in Guadalajara, Mexico, and it gave the new head of the Canadian Space Agency, Sylvain Laporte, an international stage on which to discuss the importance of Canada’s space program to the federal government’s recently unveiled Innovation Agenda.
The federal government’s Innovation Agenda website only went live this past June, although specific mention of how it would integrate with Canada’s aerospace industry remains vague.
The International Astronautical Congress is attended each year by global representatives of national space agencies, private companies, engineers, scientists, and students, and provides a forum for stakeholders in the world’s space-related industries to catch up with each other’s progress.
This was Laporte’s first appearance as head of the CSA, and he was plunged into a discussion on a Head of Agencies plenary, opening the Congress.
Laporte appeared relaxed and engaged as moderators asked each head of each agency, including the European Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, the Russian Federation’s Roscosmos, the China National Space Agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation, and NASA, to outline their respective nations’ plans for their space programs.
Laporte said that the CSA would be “playing a very big part” in the federal government’s Innovation Agenda.
Speaking first on the opening plenary, Laporte said, “From a policy perspective, Canada has a new government, although it’s been a year, we still call them new, and we’re spending a considerable amount of time developing an innovation agenda, and as you can image, space is a major contributor to innovation and to science, so we are looking at playing a very big part of those new efforts.”
Canada is participating in the OSIRIS-REx mission, which is on its way to collect samples from an asteroid called Bennu and return those samples to Earth.
The CSA has also contributed two instruments to the James Webb Space Telescope, the most advanced space telescope ever built, set to launch in October 2018 and touted to be the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched in 1990 and has produced our most spectacular images of space.
Laporte also mentioned that Canada had committed to remain engaged with the International Space Station until 2024, and that Canada is recruiting two new astronauts to begin basic training at NASA in August 2017.
With a potential launch date set for 2018, Laporte also spoke of the CSA’s own RADARSAT Constellation mission for earth observation.
The RADARSAT Constellation mission’s prime contractor is Richmond, B.C.’s MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (TSX:MDA), which received the first two payload modules from Mississauga’s Magellan Aerospace (TSX:MAL) in September 2015, which will house the electronics for the radar payload being developed by MacDonald Dettwiler for RADARSAT.
In terms of budgets for Canada’s space program, the CSA has been consulting with the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC) and the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) on both short and long-term budget priorities.
Ideally, a stronger focus on the government’s Innovation Agenda means that smaller stakeholders in Canada, including private companies and university departments that are developing future talent will become much more meaningfully engaged with the CSA.
On that point, Laporte commented in response to an audience question that when he took over at the CSA, there were no employees under the age of 25, a situation that he has rectified by implementing the practice of hiring young engineers fresh out of university, and also by starting a new two-year program that sees those new hires rotate through the agency, so that they can learn something from each department before beginning work in a specific silo.
That youth-focused, globally minded approach sounds like a fresh approach to rejuvenating the culture at the CSA.
Another audience question asked Laporte to specify what technologies the CSA is developing in relation to resources in space, and he replied that Canada is working on drilling technology for in-situ resource utilization, or creating the means to live self-sufficiently on the surfaces of asteroids or other planets.
This past April, the CSA awarded a $700,000 contract to develop a combination drill and rotary multi-purpose tool for mining in space to Deltion Innovations Ltd., based in Capreol, Ontario, to build what the CSA refers to as “PROMPT” (Percussive and Rotary Multi-Purpose Tool), a “space-age Swiss Army knife” designed to drill into rock or other materials, capturing samples at the end of a robotic arm.