Canada’s Space Policy Framework 2014

John Siebert Space Security

John Siebert

Published in The Ploughshares Monitor Volume 35 Issue 2 Summer 2014

Industry support in an international policy vacuum

On February 7 Industry Minister James Moore released Canada’s Space Policy Framework: Launching the Next Generation (CSA 2014). This policy document was developed in response to the government-mandated study of Canada’s space industry by former federal Cabinet Minister David Emerson, Reaching Higher: Canada’s Interests and Future in Space (Aerospace Review 2012). Both the Emerson review and the Space Framework are welcome first steps in building a badly needed Canadian space policy.

A brief, modest proposal, with significant omissions

For at least a decade Canada has been sharply criticized for not having a comprehensive outer space policy and program. James Fergusson and Stephen James (2007) produced a broad critique of Canadian national security and outer space policy. They characterized Canadian space policy and programming as disjointed and incoherent:

Canada has no overarching national space policy…. Space is so structurally buried and fragmented within government that voices advocating for more appropriate treatment of space security issues are marginalized, even within such departments as Industry Canada (the Canadian Space Agency’s parent department) and the Department of National Defence (DND). (p. i)

Minister Moore’s opening message claims that the Space Framework “will provide a comprehensive approach to Canada’s future in space to ensure our continued commitment to exploration, commercialization and development” (CSA 2014, p. 3). However, it would be more accurate to say that the Space Framework is a brief, modest proposal that maintains current lowered levels of public financial support (“fiscal neutrality”) and is aimed primarily at enhancing the role of the Canadian space industry. Little policy direction is given to preserving the vulnerable outer space environment, which is subject to debris accumulation that threatens access to and use of key space orbits, and to the international efforts required to maintain human use of space for future generations.

The Space Framework does not even go as far as to accept all of Emerson’s recommendations.

To meet the need for Canadian government coordination and coherence on space investments, the Space Framework does provide for new government and industry coordination mechanisms, including the establishment of the Space Advisory Board, headed by the President of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). Further, a Deputy Ministers Governance Committee on Space will be established “to provide oversight for all major space activities undertaken by the Government of Canada and the CSA.”

However, there is no firm commitment that decisions on “annual government-wide priorities for the Canadian Space Program [be taken] to the Cabinet Committee on Priorities and Planning, which is chaired by the Prime Minister, for discussion and approval each spring” as recommended by Emerson. No definite planning horizons are established beyond 2015-16.

In response to Emerson’s recommendations for steady long-term public funding, the Space Framework provides only short-term commitments. CSA funding will remain steady through 2015-16. However, in the last decade it actually dropped in constant dollars, from $325-million in 2001-2002 to $225-million in 2012-2013 (Aerospace Review 2012, p. 35), excluding a one-time funding boost through the Canada Action Plan following the 2008 recession. Other government sources of funding, such as aerospace industry, defence, and academic sources, will be “leveraged” to support space activities. Partnerships with the private sector and international cooperation also will be developed to share costs and risks.

The Emerson Report calls for total funding for the CSA’s technology development program to be raised by “$10 million per year for each of the next three years and [to] be maintained at that level” (Aerospace Review 2012, p. 42). The Space Framework offers what appears to be a more modest commitment to double the Space Technologies Development Program budget “to $20 million annually by 2015-16” (Industry Canada 2013).

No plan to secure the global commons

The Space Framework claims that “space is increasingly congested, contested, and competitive” (CSA 2014, p. 8). Those who follow space policy discussions will immediately recognize this as a frequently repeated phrase in the U.S. National Security Space Strategy (US DoD 2011, p. i): “Space, a domain that no nation owns but on which all rely, is becoming increasingly congested, contested, and competitive.” The Space Framework points at the growing number of major spacefaring powers, the risks of collision between valuable space assets and debris, and the growth of private space commercial interests, without commenting on Canada’s international efforts to improve space governance to the benefit of all.

Canada’s national interests are best protected by an international normative regime that prioritizes the protection of outer space as a unique and sensitive environment. The principle that outer space is a peaceful global commons should be clearly stated as being at the heart of a Canadian comprehensive outer space policy. This principle would be further strengthened by being grounded in the definition of space security put forward in the Space Security Index: “the secure and sustainable access to and use of space and freedom from space-based threats” (Jaramillo 2013, p. 5).

When and how Canada will pursue its national interests, in concert with others through multilateral institutions and for the mutual advantage of all, is not covered in the Space Framework. Yet we know that Canada is not ignoring such questions. Canada participates regularly in forums such as the Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) in Vienna.

Clearly the most harmful potential development in outer space would be the creation of huge new debris clouds through the destruction of satellites by space-based or ground-based weapons. The Space Framework does not mention non-weaponization of space, a traditional pillar of Canada’s international space diplomacy.

The weaponization of space—placing explicitly offensive weapons in space—is not the same as the military use of space. Canada’s military and security forces, like the militaries of other nations, have legitimate needs for space-related services such as communications and surveillance, which often by definition are dual- or multiuse. Thus, the definition of “peaceful uses of space” must be understood to have nuances. All of this the Space Framework studiously avoids, preoccupied with narrow commercial advantage for the Canadian space industry.

In fact there is no direction in the Space Framework for Canada’s arms control efforts in space or military applications of space assets. Brief mention is made of Canada’s first operational military satellite, Sapphire, which actually is defined in terms of civil space activity: “An orbital traffic controller, Sapphire monitors thousands of pieces of debris, detects man-made objects in orbit, and provides data to the U.S.-led Space Surveillance Network, dedicated to preventing satellite collisions” (CSA 2014, p. 6). The reader is left to speculate that an “operational military satellite” with these capabilities would also be identifying potential adversaries’ military and intelligence satellites.

Debris mitigation is mentioned in the Space Framework, but only as a potential opportunity for Canadian industry. Not mentioned are the international security implications in activities that must differentiate between space junk and another country’s operational satellites.
The reiteration of a national space policy that includes a clear commitment to the non-weaponization of space and the sustained peaceful use of space for all would be more than an idealistic proposition by Canada. It would, for example, permanently close the controversial debate on Canada’s potential participation in ballistic missile defence systems, which have the capability of being quickly adapted for ground-based on-orbit satellite destruction.

Further steps

There are indications from government officials that further work now is being undertaken to expand on the Space Framework, providing more in-depth analysis and adding meat to its bare-bones content. The current government’s overall fiscal plan to eliminate the deficit in 2014-15 also could lead to more substantial federal government investments in space after the 2015-16 horizon covered in the Space Framework. Further public consultation on issues not captured in Emerson’s focus on the Canadian space industry could help to provide greater depth and give positive direction in developing policy that acknowledges the international context for Canada’s space investments. The result could be a truly comprehensive space policy.


Aerospace Review. 2012. Volume 2: Reaching Higher: Canada’s Interests and Future in Space, November.

Canadian Space Agency 2014. Canada’s Space Policy Framework: Launching the Next Generation.

Fergusson, James and Stephen James. 2007. Canada, National Security and Outer Space. Report prepared for The Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute.

Industry Canada. 2013. Backgrounder: Government of Canada Response to Emerson Recommendations on Space. December 2.

Jaramillo. Cesar. 2013. Space Security Index 2013. SPACESECURITY.ORG.

United States of America Department of Defense. 2011. National Security Space Strategy: Unclassified Summary. January.

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