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Will Canada feel free to join the new generation space station project?

Amit Chakma – President and Vice Chancellor of the Western University

Members of the Canadian space community, including academic and business leaders, are now conducting an urgent dialogue that emphasizes how Canada’s window of opportunity can be closed to play a leading role in the development of the global space economy, as well as the next steps in space exploration. .

The impetus for this timely conversation is the nascent Moon Gateway, an international project coordinated by NASA that would expand human expansion through the solar system. In collaboration with public and private partners, the Moon Gateway is a project and construction of a small station that will be sent into orbit around the Moon over the next decade. From there, astronauts will build and test systems to advance lunar reconnaissance, conduct a large number of space experiments, improve satellite communications, and prepare future missions to more distant places, including Mars.

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Unlike the International Space Station, which surrounds the Earth just 400 kilometers away, the Lunar Gate will revolve around the Moon for more than 400,000 kilometers. Such a feat would entail overcoming a multitude of scientific and technical problems, especially with regard to robotics and artificial intelligence — areas of Canada’s proven strength.

Not surprisingly, industry leaders and university researchers across a wide range of disciplines see the scale and complexity of the Lunar Gateway as an opportunity to use their experience in an exciting joint project with truly global consequences and potentially astronomical economic benefits once in a lifetime.

Canadians have many reasons to be delighted with the Gateway project, starting with our impressive history in space, which dates back 60 years. We were the third country to launch a satellite into orbit (Alouette 1 in 1962); the first to work on a domestic telecommunications satellite (Anik in 1972); and the first to post a live broadcast in 1982. Canadarm, used in the Shuttle missions and the International Space Station, has become an icon of national pride and a world famous symbol of Canadian ingenuity. Only the United States and Russia sent more astronauts into space than Canada.

And yet, although space agencies from the United States, Europe, Russia, and Japan are lining up for a partnership on the Lunar Gate, Canada’s level of commitment to an international enterprise remains a question mark. In fact, over the past few years, Canada’s place in space has fallen. While other countries of outer space increased their investment in space as a percentage of GDP, Canada declined from eighth place in 1992 to 18th place in 2016, and our investments were not guided by a long-term plan for decades.

However, there are encouraging signs that support for a more ambitious Canadian space strategy may grow, supported by some convincing economic arguments. For example, Morgan Stanley recently predicts that by 2040, revenues from the global space industry could grow to $ 1.1 trillion, compared with the global space market in 2017, estimated at $ 380 billion. This projected growth will be driven by the rapid expansion of satellite observations of the Earth and communications satellites over the next 20 years, which will serve an increasing number of applications that depend on satellite imagery, remote sensing and global positioning data to improve the quality of life and safety.

Speculation is also reinforced by the fact that more traditional industries, such as the mining industry, will soon reveal their claims in space. Scientists theorize that a single asteroid the size of a football field may contain precious metals, the cost of which exceeds $ 50 billion. Extrapolating data from NASA that about 18,000 asteroids are near Earth, the total cost of nearby celestial minerals can reach 700 centillion. Considering that this is not just science fiction material, Luxembourg created a fund in the amount of US $ 225 million in 2016 to encourage entrepreneurial space companies to create a store in this country where goals should become the world leader in space mining and begin exploration of asteroids by 2020 year

At the same time, it is important to note that investments in space exploration have a significant positive effect on the Canadian economy and on Canadians. Through the use of Canadarm's expertise in the development of NeuroArm for brain surgery using tools designed for exploration of Mars in the mining industry, space exploration stimulates innovation and pushes the development of technology.

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On September 12, Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, named Sarah Gallagher, a professor of physics and astronomy at Western University, the first scientific advisor to the Canadian Space Agency. In his new role, Professor Gallagher will promote the development of space science and the formation of the future direction of space research. A week later, Science and Sport Minister Kirstie Duncan announced that the Council for Research in Natural and Technical Sciences is funding a public awareness campaign led by the Western Center for Planetary Science and Research: “Space Issues”, which aims to highlight the importance of space to Canadians and how it affects almost every aspect of our daily life.

These are positive signs that our government leaders see Canada’s potential in space. But we need to take several bold steps that require major investments from the government. The stakes are too high, and the time is too short, if we take seriously the fact that the next generation of Canadian researchers and entrepreneurs will secure this country's place in a growing space economy. Canada can and should be an important player in the Lunar Gateway project.

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