Amit Chakma is President and Vice-President at the Western University
Members of the Canadian space community, including academic and entrepreneurial leaders, are currently engaged in an urgent dialogue to highlight how the window can close on Canada's opportunities to play a leading role in the development of the global space economy as well as the next steps in space exploration.
The launch of this current conversation is the emerging Lunar Gateway, an international project coordinated by NASA to allow human expansion across the solar system. In cooperation with public and private partners, Lunar Gateway represents the design and construction of a small station that will be sent to orbit around the moon in the next decade. From there, the astronauts will build and test systems for advancing the exploration of the moon, carry out numerous explosions of deep space, improve satellite communications, and make future missions to more remote targets, including Mars.
Unlike the International Space Station, which circulates the Earth just 400 kilometers away, the Lunar Gateway orbit the moon more than 400,000 miles away. Such an undertaking will require the overcoming of many scientific and technological challenges, in particular as regards robotics and artificial intelligence – the areas of proven power of Canada.
Not surprisingly, industry leaders and university researchers in many disciplines see the scale and complexity of Lunar Gateway as a unique opportunity to use their expertise for an exciting collaboration project with real global implications and potentially astronomical economic benefits.
Canadians have many reasons for excitement over the Gateway project, starting with our impressive history in the space of 60 years. We were the third country that introduced the satellites into orbit (Alouette 1 in 1962); the first one to manage the domestic telecommunication satellite (Anik in 1972); and the first to use the broadcast service directly in the home in 1982. Kanadarm, which is used in Space Shuttle and the International Space Station, has become an icon of national pride and a world-renowned symbol of Canadian inventiveness. Only the US and Russia sent more astronauts to the universe than Canada.
And while space agencies from the United States, Europe, Russia and Japan are turning to a partner in the Lunar Transition, the Canadian level of commitment to an international company remains questionable. In fact, in the last few years, the city of Canada has fallen in space. While other space-seeking countries have increased their investment in space as a percentage of GDP, Canada has moved from eighth to 1992 in the 18th place in 2016, and our investments have not steered for a decade for a long-term plan.
There are, however, pervading signs that support for a more ambitious Canadian space strategy, promoted by some convincing economic arguments, can increase. For example, Morgan Stanley recently announced that the revenue generated by the global space industry will increase to $ 1.1 trillion by 2040, compared with the global space market in 2017, which is estimated at US 380 billion dollars. This anticipated growth will stimulate the rapid expansion of Earth observation and communication satellites over the next 20 years, which will serve an increasing number of applications that depend on satellite imagery, remote sensing and global position data in order to improve our quality of life and safety.
Speculation is also increasing so that more traditional industries such as mining will soon take over their claims in space. Scientists theorize that a single asteroid of the size of a football field could contain precious metals worth 50 billion US dollars. Extrapolating NASA data to about 18,000 asteroids around the Earth, the total value of nearby celestial minerals could amount to as much as 700 USD quintillion. An article that this is not merely a science fiction, Luxembourg set up a $ 225 million fund in 2016 to attract enterprise space companies to set up trade in that country where targets will become the leader in space mining and begin exploring asteroids to in 2020.
At the same time, it is important to note that investment in space exploration has significant positive effects on the Canadian economy and the well-being of Canadians. From the use of Canadarm's experience in the development of NeuroArm's brain surgery to the use of instruments designed to explore Mars in the mining industry, space exploration drives innovation and pushes the limits of technology development.
On September 12, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economy Navdeep Bains called West University Professor of Physics and Astronomy Sarah Gallagher as the first scientific adviser to the Canadian Space Agency. In his new role, Professor Gallagher will promote space science and shape the future direction of space research. A week later, Science and Sport Minister Kirsty Duncan announced that the Science and Technology Research Council funded a public awareness campaign run by the Western Center for Planetary Science and Research: Space Affairs, which aims to highlight the significance of the Canadian Space and how touching almost every aspect of our everyday life.
These are positive signs that our government leaders see the potential of Canada in space. However, we must take some bold steps that require major government investments. The cartridges are too high and time is too short if we are serious that the next generation of Canadian researchers and entrepreneurs can secure the place of this country in a growing space economy. Canada can and must be an important player in the Lunar Gateway project.