Canada's space agency to take back seat to private sector

The Canadian space program is getting revamped to allow more partnerships between government, the private sector and various research bodies, as well as continue to support major international projects and training for future astronauts, Industry Minister James Moore announced Friday.

Industry Minister James Moore pledges $17M to help build 'most powerful space telescope ever'

The Canadarm protrudes from U.S. space shuttle Endeavour, which is attached to the International Space Station, during a 2011 mission. Canada's space program took a giant leap on Friday, with new commitments from Ottawa. (HO-European Space Agency/NASA/The Canadian Press)

The Canadian government is repaving its path to the final frontier.

The Canadian space program is getting revamped to allow more partnerships between government, the private sector and various research bodies in the country, as well as continue to support major international projects and training for future astronauts. 

Canada is also pledging another $17 million to build the James Webb Space Telescope, set to launch in 2018 as the successor to the famed Hubble Space Telescope. The Canadian Space Agency dubs it to be the "most powerful space telescope ever."

The plans are outlined in a new policy framework announced by Industry Minister James Moore on Friday morning at the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa.

"As we approach Canada's 150th birthday in 2017, we want to continue to support a strong, competitive and innovative space sector that will be here with us for the long-term, making us proud," Moore said.

Joining him was the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president and former chief of defence staff Walter Natynczyk, as well as Canadian astronauts Jeremy Hansen and David Saint-Jacques. 

'The hub' of Canada's space program

Aside from additional funding to the Webb telescope project, the government did not pledge any more money to the CSA, which means expansion of Canada's space program will involve more non-governmental players.

The new space policy framework will emphasize the work of the private sector to support space activities and pushes for co-operation with international partners "to pool data for mutual benefit and obtain services and technologies that would otherwise be unavailable."

A Canadian space advisory council will also be established, to be comprised of "stakeholders in the public and private space domain" and chaired by the CSA president.

Natynczyk said the agency is really only "the hub of the Canadian space program." He said there are more than 200 companies involved in space projects, 30 universities with space studies and 21 government departments whose mandates include contributing to space solutions. 

"And what's key here is this policy allows the space agency to enable all their success," Natynczyk said in a media scrum after the announcement.

"So it's not only the great astronauts like David and Jeremy, but it's also the great engineers that we have and those who are putting the projects together."

Canada's space industry employs about 8,000 people and contributes $3.33 billion to the economy each year. 

Future Chris Hadfields

The government is committing to continue Canada's astronaut program, to have Canadians aboard future space laboratories and research centres, leaving the door open for future Chris Hadfields

"He opened up our eyes and our minds to the possibilities of future exploration in space," Moore said of Canada's first commander of the International Space Station.

During Hadfield's mission in 2013, more than 100 scientific experiments were conducted on the ISS. 

Students from a local elementary school were on hand for the announcement. 

"You know, the first human being who will walk on Mars has probably already been born. It might be you. It might be one of your classmates," Moore said to the students.

"Yes, space is an industry for Canada, but it's also an adventure. An adventure of the intellect, an adventure of discovery." 

Space program still needs money: Garneau

Friday's announcement signals a renaissance for the CSA, which was hit by blistering budget cuts over the past few years. 

Liberal MP and former astronaut Marc Garneau said it is "a good framework" but the real test is the execution. 

"I will wait to see whether the grand words of this framework are going to turn into something positive for Canada's space program."

Garneau, who was also the CSA president, acknowledged the $17-million funding promise is a start, but noted that the space agency lost $30 million from its budget last year. 

"Fine words have to be backed up by actions and that involves money as well." 

The NDP had harsher words, saying that the Conservatives are "compromising middle-class jobs in this innovative sector."

“Thanks to Conservative ineptitude, important projects like the Radarsat Constellation Mission are late, over budget and jobs have been lost,” said industry critic Chris Charlton in a statement.

In December, Moore said the government would reveal Canada's new space plan in 2014, in response to a report written by former cabinet minister David Emerson. The report criticized the country's space program and said the agency responsible had "floundered" for a decade.

With files from Susan Lunn