While the space community waits for the government to release a new space strategy, the real work behind the scenes to make that happen is proceeding at a larger scale than the public is aware of.
Whole of Government approach
At the recent Canadian Space Summit in a session that few attended, and titled simply “Rockets”, one of the speakers, Christopher Collmorgen from Transport Canada, took the opportunity to discuss what’s happening at the policy level within his department.
Collmorgen is the Acting Chief, Aviation Safety Policy Policy and Regulatory Services, Transport Canada Civil Aviation. His talk focussed on domestic launch capability and he was quick to point out that the talk represented the views of Transport Canada and was not official Government of Canada policy.
What Collmorgen did say is that policy staff at many government departments, and at many levels, have been for the last few years working on what regulations need to be updated, how some changes could be implemented within current regulations and that they have been considering what if any new laws need to be enacted. And from what Collmorgen said, this isn’t the effort of a few policy staff, but rather a whole of Government approach with dozens of staff at various levels including policy analysts and technical experts from 12 to 15 departments.
Collmorgen told SpaceQ that there are many committees from departments with a connection to space dealing with the space file. Those include committees at the Assistant Deputy Minister (ADM) level, Director General level and working committees that include policy analysts and technical experts.
The extent of the ongoing work within government may not be Earth shattering news to insiders in Ottawa and to some industry government relations reps, but for most of the space community, it is news.
While senior government officials may not talk about the details of what’s happening behind the scenes within government with respect to the space file, they should. Communicating with the space community in greater detail would help everyone involved.
Enacting policy changes
In his talk Collmorgen said “the Government of Canada is alive to the importance of new space.” He also said “the wheels of Government may grind slowly but they grind finely.”
From a policy and regulatory perspective, Canada is late to the table and playing catch-up. And based on what Collmorgen and several other government staff have said, it will take time to get all the policies and regulations up to date to meet the challenges of the current marketplace. Some of those changes may require only small policy changes and could happen sooner, but others could take several years.
When the second mandated review of the Remote Sensing Space Systems Act was completed in early 2017 it became clear that the Act was out of date and that it was being used as a general purpose space law for Canada, something that was not intended when it was first created. That Act needs to be updated and in the review process it was put forward that the government should consider creating a new General Outer Space Act. To create a new Act would require a new bill put forward in parliament. It is extremely unlikely that would happen in the current Liberal governments mandate which will expire in October next year. It will be the responsibility of the next government, be it the Liberals if they are re-elected, or another party to consider bringing a new General Outer Space Act into existence.
Key to any proposed changes currently being worked on and put forward by all those involved at the policy level, is the will of those at the ADM level to buy into the changes and take them to their Ministers for approval. This would result in new government policy and possibly tabling of new legislation.
Launch in Canada
With respect to launch in Canada, Transport Canada policy analysts are working with technical experts to identify all the issues and to come up with solutions in the form of recommended policy changes and possibly changes to the Aeronautics Act.
Top level issues identified for every affected department to consider include;
- State Responsibility and International Obligations
- Debris Mitigation
- Space Object Registration
- Remote Sensing(RSSSA)
- Ground Segment
- Spectrum Management
- Space Situational Awareness/Space Traffic Mgt
- On-Orbit Servicing
- Space Resource Utilization
Specific to launch, and using a whole of Government approach, Transport Canada is working on these top level issues;
- Launch Vehicle Certification
- Launch Site Facility/Spaceports
- Domestic Airspace Management
- Compliance with International Agreements
Of note, Canada has no domestic launch capability or spaceport. But the policy groundwork being done by Transport Canada, using the whole of Government approach, specifically deals with “what if” Canada had a spaceport(s) and “what if” there was launch capability developed domestically or “what if” a foreign entity wanted to launch from Canada.
The possibility that a foreign company would want to launch from Canada is a very real possibility should Canada have a spaceport. Small satellite launch providers are looking for multiple launch sites for their rockets to meet the expected demand for their services and be agile in providing timely launch services that meets the customers schedule.
In mid-October at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute’s Ready for Launch – Preparing Canada for a Future in Space conference, U.S. State Department’s Kenneth Hodgkins talked about Canada becoming an emerging launching state. He said there were a couple of companies that would consider launching from Canada and that the US government was very supportive. For that to happen though Canada would need its own policy and regulations in place along with a Technology Safeguards Agreement between the US and Canada. That agreement is something the US apparently wants to be put into place.
A good example of a Technology Safeguards Agreement being put into place is the agreement signed between the US and New Zealand in June of 2016. The agreement (PDF) allows Rocket Lab, which is a US/New Zealand company, to export its rocket technology to New Zealand which includes controlled US rocket technology.
For those wanting to see both spaceports and launch in Canada, Transport Canada and the government as whole are working on the issue, but it will take time for all the pieces to fall into place.