The Hill

The United States and Canada Can Make Space Great Again Together

Sean Kelly and Christopher Sands on CSA/NASA Collaboration

Manager, Public Programming & Special Projects
Former Senior Fellow
Space Shuttle taking off (Credit: Ro-Ma Stock Photography)
Space Shuttle taking off (Credit: Ro-Ma Stock Photography)

The nomination of Rep.  Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) to lead the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) is only the most recent sign that the Donald J. Trump administration is serious about an expanded role for the United States in space. Recent advances in the private sector are expanding commercial opportunities, raising the urgency of expanding space research and operational capabilities for the Department of Defense as well as NASA.

And space isn’t cheap.

As Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Bridenstine (if confirmed) look for ways to close the gap between growing need and available resources, they should look north to Canada, a longstanding partner and ally that can and should be invited to do more with the United States. 

Defense beyond NORAD

Canada and the United States jointly defend North American airspace through the North American Aerospace Defense (NORAD) command, but Canada’s contributions have been limited to air-breathing threats. Canadian governments have historically been opposed to space “militarization,” however in June, the Trudeau government announced that the country would commit to increasing defense spending from the current $18.9 billion to $32.7 billion by 2027, an increase of 73 percent. The spending hike included prioritizing space capabilities such as satellite communications and surveillance, and allowing for “critical investments in important areas such as space and cyber.”

Additionally, Canada has launched a new “Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security” (IDEaS) program that targets support for research and development of space-related technologies. IDEaS is expected to receive $1.6 billion over the next 20 years, and is tasked with identifying national security problems and seeking innovative solutions from both academia and the private sector.

The U.S. should consider promoting cooperation between IDEaS and the U.S. Department of Defense programs like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx). Cooperative efforts could include cost-sharing and cross-border public-private partnerships, which can benefit both governments as well as the universities and private entities with whom they work.

Joint U.S.-Canadian projects have led to cost-sharing and improved project management before. The United States and Canada successfully partnered in the development and deployment of the successful Sapphire satellite, a Canadian-made satellite currently providing data to the U.S. Space Surveillance Network to improve situational awareness in space. 

Canada’s Department of National Defence is asking the United States and other allies to invest in their Enhanced Satellite Communication Project, which would provide 24/7 surveillance of the Arctic and is estimated to cost anywhere from $1.5 billion to $2.4 billion. National security would benefit from improved domain awareness in the Arctic for U.S. Northern Command, and the Canadian program would share the burden financially with Canadian taxpayers. 

NASA and the Canadian Space Agency 

Additionally, the Canadian Space Agency has partnered with NASA on many projects dating back to 1969. While CSA funding has been declining overall, CSA has found ways to make progress with limited resources, such as the comparatively low cost $80.9 million investment in radar equipment intended to survey Mars and for investigating the use of quantum computing technology in space.

And CSA continues to develop innovative products through partnering with domestic industry. The RADARSAT program has been a leading radar imaging satellite program for over two decades, beginning in the 1990s with the launch of their first satellite, RADARSAT-1. CSA is currently working on their third model, the RADARSAT Constellation, to be launchedin 2018 by U.S. commercial space pioneer SpaceX. 

Trump’s recent re-establishment of the National Space Council was preceded by the renewal of the Canadian Space Advisory Board. The first goal of the advisory board is to assist Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development with the development of a new space strategy through outreach to stakeholders. Coordination with the U.S. National Space Council should be a priority.

U.S.-Canada Space Collaboration

The number of innovative U.S. and Canadian firms exploring the commercial potential of space will grow in support of terrestrial applications such as communications and navigation. In Ottawa, this has prompted calls for Canada to acquire greater capacity to protect national interests in the freedom of space navigation, with the Canadian Senate’s Standing Committee on National Security and Defence recommending earlier this year that Canada’s space assets be designated as “critical infrastructure.”

Separately, Trump has called on other countries to share the burdens of international peace and security and views space exploration as an area where the United States needs to re-engage. By expanding on the existing relationships between the U.S. and Canadian militaries and space programs, the United States and Canada can achieve more, and make their budget dollars boldly go where no one has gone before.