In their recent Policy Options article Christopher Sands and Sean Kelly rightly point out that there are many opportunities coming up for Canadians to participate in US space activities. But it is also true that Canadian organizations (public, private and academic) have been working in cooperation with US space organizations for six decades in the fields of satellite communications, earth observation, space science, space systems and robotics, navigation, humans in space and space exploration. In fact, in two key areas, satellite communications and earth observation, Canada has played a leadership role. Fifty-four percent of Canada’s space exports go to the US. If anything, we need to build on our current involvements and relationships with US organizations, but we should also be careful not to assume all of their priorities as our own.

For example, there is increasing pressure within US defence and security agencies to develop and arm a new space corps. The weaponization of space is a concept that is quite controversial and has not received open public endorsement, while certain incremental space developments have been quietly moving the world in this direction. The recent missile demonstrations by North Korea have seriously exacerbated the situation and have resulted in renewed motivation for the US to consider advanced space defence systems. Even though this may present a lucrative opportunity for Canada, should Canada aggressively pursue this space race as a partner with the US, and if so, at what cost?

Let’s not just dance to the American tune. Instead, let’s base our space priorities on our national needs first and foremost, while continuing to be good partners with the US on initiatives that complement America’s needs and that will then continue to result in Canadian sales to the US. For example, we have developed amazing space technologies in earth observation and navigation that play an increasingly important role in the monitoring of our vast coastal areas and northern regions, but that also suitably serve the needs of the US and many other nations. It’s a business model that has worked well for us in the past.

Photo: US postal stamp celebrating space exploration, circa 1967. Shutterstock, by chrisdorney.

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Mike Kirby
Mike Kirby has more than 35 years of experience in the international aerospace business. He is currently an adviser and consultant to the Canadian Space Agency.

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