The Canadian Space Agency says president Steve MacLean is stepping down.

MacLean has announced plans to leave on Feb. 1 to assume a position in a new venture to be created by Mike Lazaridis.

"During his tenure as president, he was devoted as an accomplished physicist, astronaut and administrator to advancing the Canadian Space Program," the agency said of MacLean in a statement.

Several sources have told The Canadian Press that the former Canadian astronaut will go work for the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ont.

Perimeter was founded by Lazaridis, former CEO and co-founder of Research In Motion.

The space agency said in a news release late Tuesday that MacLean will lead a team pursuing breakthrough scientific research and development in the highly specialized field of quantum physics.

He was appointed president of the space agency in 2008 and his mandate was set to expire this coming September.

One of the original six Canadian astronauts, MacLean joined the Canadian Astronaut Program in 1983.

The accomplished physicist flew on Space Shuttle Columbia as a payload specialist in 1992.

MacLean, who is married with three children, went into space for a second time in 2006 when he worked on assembly of the International Space Station.

Perimeter Institute describes itself as a major centre for theoretical physics research.

One of its visitors is Stephen Hawking, described as one of the most famous theoretical physicists on the planet.