Canada's space station commitment renewed

Canada has finally committed itself to remaining involved in the International Space Station beyond 2015.

As the heads of major space agencies gather in this country to discuss the future of the International Space Station, Canada has finally committed itself to remaining involved in the orbiting lab beyond 2015.

Industry Minister Christian Paradis made the announcement Wednesday, with the station's five international partners getting set to discuss the future of the ISS at a group meeting in Quebec City.

The heads of the space agencies will discuss Thursday co-operation in space exploration, the maintenance of the space station, and its potential benefits for humanity.

"With this renewed commitment, we are helping to maintain Canada's leadership in space technology and its everyday critical applications," Paradis told a news conference. Steve MacLean, head of the Canadian Space Agency, said in an interview that details of the arrangement still have to be negotiated.

Before the announcement, some industry players had been concerned that, unlike its partners, Canada had not signed on for the period until 2020, the end of the current projected lifespan of the station. They had been left wondering, right up until the announcement.

Given that a number of industry projects are supported by the Canadian Space Agency's $424.6 million current annual budget, its upcoming decisions carry deep financial implications for space-sector players, like Neptec. The agency, like other federal bodies, is preparing for major budget cuts this year. Bureaucrats in every department have been asked to prepare for scenarios under which their budgets would be cut either five or 10 per cent.

Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield will travel to the ISS for a six-month stay at the end of 2012, but it's not clear when another Canadian will follow. There are no flights — beyond Hadfield — scheduled for Canadians before the end of the decade.