Wednesday , May 12 2021

Will Canada boldly join the projection of the new generation of the space station?

Amit Chakma is president and deputy chancellor of the Western University

Members of the Canadian space community, including academic and business leaders, are currently engaged in an emergency dialogue that highlights how the window can be closed in Canada's ability to play a leadership role in the development of the global space economy, as well as the following steps in space exploration.

The impulse for this timely conversation is the nascent Moon Gateway, an international project co-ordinated by NASA, which will strengthen human expansion across the solar system. In cooperation with public and private partners, the Moon Gate conceives the design and construction of a small station that will be sent in orbit around the moon over the next decade. Hence, astronauts will build and test systems to improve lunar research, conduct a number of deep space experiments, improve satellite communications, and track future missions to more distant destinations, including Mars.

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Unlike the International Space Station that circles the Earth at just 400 kilometers, the Lunar Portal will orbit around the moon more than 400,000 kilometers. Such a feat will involve overcoming numerous scientific and technological challenges, especially in relation to robotics and artificial intelligence – areas with proven Canadian power.

Not surprisingly, industry leaders and university researchers across a wide spectrum of disciplines look at the scope and complexity of the lunar portal as an opportunity to live once a lifetime to apply their expertise to an exciting co-operation project with real global implications and potentially astronomical economic benefits.

Canadians have many reasons to be enthusiastic about the Gateway project, starting with our impressive space history dating back 60 years. We were the third country to launch a satellite into orbit (Alouette 1 in 1962); the first to manage a domestic telecommunication satellite (Annik in 1972); and the first one to distribute the direct broadcasting service in 1982. Canadairm, which is used for space shuttle missions and the International Space Station, has become an icon of national pride and a worldwide symbol of Canadian ingenuity. Only the United States and Russia sent more astronauts to space in Canada.

And yet, while space agencies from the United States, Europe, Russia and Japan are trying to become partners on the Moon port, Canada's commitment to the international venture remains a sign of the issue. In fact, in the past few years, Canada's place in space has fallen. While other large-scale countries increased their investment in space as a percentage of GDP, Canada dropped from eighth in 1992 to 18th in 2016, and our investments were not driven by the long-term plan for decades.

However, there are robust signs that support for a more ambitious Canadian space strategy can grow, fueled by some vast economic arguments. For example, Morgan Stanley recently predicted that the revenues generated by the global space industry could increase to $ 1.1 trillion by 2040, compared with the global space market in 2017, amounting to $ 380 billion. This predicted growth will be prompted by the rapid deployment of Earth Observation and Communication Satellites over the next 20 years, serving with a growing number of applications that depend on satellite images, remote sensors and global positioning data to improve the quality of life and security.

Speculation is also rising and more traditional industries, such as mining, will soon put their claims in space. Scientists theorize that a football-size asteroid can contain precious metals worth more than $ 50 billion. Extracting NASA data that about 18,000 asteroids orbiting near Earth, the total value of nearby celestial minerals could be up to 700 KV. Betting that this is not just science fiction, Luxembourg has set up a $ 225 million fund in 2016 to encourage entrepreneurship space companies to establish a store in that country, aiming to become the world leader in space mining and launch the asteroid quest by 2020.

At the same time, it is important to note that investments in space exploration have significant positive effects on the Canadian economy and the well-being of Canadians. Since the application of Canadarm expertise in the development of NeuroArm for brain surgery on the use of instruments intended for exploring Mars to the mining industry, space research has been innovating and pushing the boundaries of technology development.

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On September 12, the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Nadebel Bens declared professor of physics and astronomy from the Western University Sarah Gallagher as the first scientific adviser to the Canadian Space Agency. In his new role, prof. Gallagher will help promote space science and shape the future direction of space research. A week later, the Minister of Science and Sport, Kirsty Duncan, announced that the Scientific Council for Natural Sciences and Engineering financed a public awareness campaign led by the Western Center for Planetary Science and Research: "Space Work", which aims to emphasized the importance of the space for Canadians and how it touches almost every aspect of our everyday life.

These are positive signs that our government leaders are seeing Canada's potential in space. But we need to take a few bold steps that require large investments by the government. The stake is too high and time is too short if we are serious about enabling next-generation Canadian researchers and entrepreneurs to secure a place for this country in the growing economy of space. Canada can and should be an important player in the Moon Gateway Project.

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