Photo by Nasa on Unsplash

May 24, 2024

Build Back Better: A Nation in Space

Canada’s entry to the “Space Age” began in 1962 with the launch of the Alouette-1 Satellite from the Vandenburg Air Force Base in California, which transmitted data for 10 years used to produce 250 scientific papers, and Alouette-2 launched in 1965, that was outsourced to the private sector to incentivize the formation of “breakout” technology companies in Canada. 

With these achievements, Canada became the third country (after the United States and Russia) to launch an indigenously produced satellite into space. Subsequent generations of civilian satellite technology shifted the strategic focus from space science to natural resource monitoring and domestic telecommunications. The joint US-Canada Hermes (“the messenger of the gods”) program of the 1970s enabled experimental trials in health, education, and commercial broadcasting, further establishing Canada’s leadership role as a pioneering nation in the early space age. 

During the 1980s, Canada further strengthened its reputation as a forerunner in space manufacturing and robotics with the Canadarm, a remote-controlled mechanical arm designed to maneuver payloads of the NASA Space Shuttle program (1972-2011) which also played an important role in the construction of the International Space Station (ISS), built in earth’s orbit and maintained by five spacefaring nations. Canada has also been central to NASA’s human space missions. Since the first recruitment drive undertaken in 1983, nine male and female Canadia astronauts have participated on multiple NASA Space Shuttle flights and expeditions to the International Space Station (ISS) as payload specialists, mission specialists, and flight engineers.1

By the end of that decade the federal government had oriented towards a more long-range, integrated approach to space exploration and utilization. This strategic shift reflected a growing awareness about the unique potential of the space industry to benefit Canada’s global competitive advantage, socio-economic development, and technological expertise. New policies and programs were introduced with a view to expanding the international market for space satellite technology (RADARSAT), to strengthening its allied partnerships in space, and to diversifying Canada’s commercial partnerships. The establishment of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) in 1990 has helped to accelerate this strategic transition. 

A New Space Age 

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has played a vital role in both domestic and international space missions as well as innovative technological developments. In addition to developing domestic earth observation (EO) capabilities such as the RADARSAT satellite constellation, the CSA has contributed to transformative missions such as the James Webb Space Telescope and led collaborative projects with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), European Space Agency (ESA), Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and the Swedish National Space Agency (SNSA). 

More recently, Canada reached an engineering milestone when the robotic arm, Canadarm 2, was installed on the International Space Station (ISS). In 2020, Canada along with dozens of countries other countries signed the US-led Artemis Accords outlining a set of global norms for peaceful space exploration of the low-earth orbit (160 Kilometres from earth) and deep space (beyond the moon).2 A total of 39 nine countries (19 in Europe, eight in Asia, five in South America, three in North America, three in Africa, and two in Oceana) have now endorsed the Artemis Accords. 

The same year, the Canada Space Agency (CSA) signed an historic Gateway Treaty with the United States. This treaty secures Canada’s involvement in the Lunar Gateway space station, a science-based outpost assembled in the moon’s orbit that will evaluate technologies needed for deep-space crewed missions to Mars, and participation in the 2025 Artemis 2 moon mission, NASA’s first crewed expedition to the moon since 1972. Both Canadian astronauts, one male and one female, are colonels in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). 

Strategic Considerations for Canada

As a vast country with a relatively small population base, Canada relies on space-based technology for national security (eg., intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance/ISR), to perform essential government functions (eg., air track control, humanitarian missions, weather monitoring, disaster response), and facilitate a variety of consumer services (eg., cell phones, television, financial transactions).3 

As a member of the G7 Group of nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Combined Space Operations Initiatives (CSpO),4 and a partner in the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), Canada has both a national interest and a diplomatic responsibility to maintain a high degree of situational awareness in all five strategic domains (space, cyber, air, land, and marine). World-class space assets and ground-based space systems are critical to sustaining that mission. As an example, the RADARSAT satellite constellation supplies 12 federal departments and agencies with at least 250,000 images annually, a fiftyfold increase in the previous two decades.5 Already operating at full capacity, the radar imagery satellites will reach the end of their expected service life in 2026, well before the planned launch of a replacement system. According to the Auditor General of Canada, a central part of Canada’s Arctic surveillance capabilities could soon be degraded due to the country’s aging hardware.6 

Even though Canada was the third country in the world to design and build a satellite, it has lacked reliable and secure satellite communications to connect military headquarters with units deployed abroad. In fact, the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) did not launch a military space satellite, Sapphire, until 2013 (aboard India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle). Moreover, its life span does not extend beyond 2024 and a replacement system is not scheduled before 2026-27.  

To address this vulnerability, the Canadian government will invest $6.9 billion in new satellite technologies and the modernization of the country’s surveillance capabilities. In 2022, the Department of National Defense (DND) centralized its space activities with the creation of the 3 Canadian Space Division (3 CSD) in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF). This realignment supports the delivery of space power to military missions both domestically and internationally and helps to safeguard Canada’s military space capabilities against hostile activity.7 

Another strategic consideration is Canada’s role as a member of UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) in shaping international norms of responsible behavior in space8 and updating international treaties prepared for a more predictable world order. 

Creating the Right Conditions      

The near-term growth potential of Canada’s space sector is considerable. 

Canada’s space economy contributes $2.7 billion annually to the gross domestic product (GDP) and is comprised of 200 organizations supporting roughly 20,000 high-income jobs in strategic sectors including life sciences, artificial intelligence, and space manufacturing (eg., robotics, satellite communications).9 Investments in space infrastructure also helps to overcome the communication barriers that geography poses for the country’s remote and northern communities. Strategic investments in space technology from both the government and private sector can generate transformative downstream outcomes such as new R&D investments, software production, and manufacturing capacities. Economic research has shown that every dollar invested in CSA space programs generates a return of $2.2 in additional revenue.10 By one estimate, the Canadian space economy could grow exponentially to $40 billion by 2040, in the areas of space exploration and utilization.11

Optimizing Canada’s growth potential must also be managed in a context of intense economic competition, strategic partnership engagements, and geopolitical risk. Last year was pivotal for the number of international milestones attained in space. In 2023, 213 satellites were launched which represents a year-on-year increase of 18%.12 Out of the 91 countries with space programs,13 China is the most ambitious trend-setter. In 2023, China set a national record for ground-based launches and its reusable Shenlong (Divine Dragon) spacecraft completed its third orbital mission.14 The same year, Japan and India both completed moon landings. The growing mix of government, allied, commercial, and hybrid business models portends a more dynamic and decentralized operating environment. 

In fact, the global space economy is expected to grow from a valuation of $350 billion in 2023, to $1.8 trillion in 2035 (a 9% annual increase),15 driven by private industry innovations that significantly reduce the cost to manufacture and launch satellite technology. The Starlink system, owned by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, is among the most famous of satellite constellations in low earth orbit (LEO). In May 2024, SpaceX launched 23 satellites on its Falcon 9 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, expanding the operating Starlink constellation to 5,200. Including the high-speed internet services to help Ukraine resist Russia’s two-year old military invasion, Starlink has accumulated 2.7 million internet subscribers in 75 countries.16 Likewise, Jeff Bezos’s company Amazon, has initiated the $10 billion Kuiper Project to scale the production and launch of a 3,232-satellite low earth orbit (LEO) constellation, that would make it the world’s second largest commercial internet service provider.17  

The rapid proliferation and commercialization of space technology has enabled all G20 countries to establish their own satellite systems. In South Africa, the Aerospace Systems Research Institute (ASRI) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, is planning to launch indigenously produced rockets from its own launch pad by 2028.18 Peer competitors like Australia and New Zealand, two countries which did not establish a national space agency until 2018 and 2016 respectively,19 have developed foundational capabilities that could rival those of Canada. 

The burgeoning space economy is also characterized by diverse partnership formations. China, which has an ambitious space strategy that includes the construction of a permanent lunar base by 2036 and a plan to become a “space power” by 2045,20 recently partnered with Djibouti on a $1.3 billion spaceport project that is scheduled for completion in 2027.21 Under the leadership of Xi Jinping, China’s “Space Silk Road” strategy is designed to offer the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) an advantage in battlefield tactics and to strengthen the country’s position at multilateral discussions on space governance. This year, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is hoping to upgrade its outer space credentials by collaborating with the World Economic Forum (WEF) on the creation of the Centre for Space Futures.22 In 2023, the KSA partnered with Axiom Space,23 a Houston-based spaceflight developer that specializes in astronaut candidate selection, to become the first Arab country to send a female astronaut on a space mission.24

Managing Risk 

The global space sector is accessible to most countries that are prepared to invest in strategic partnerships, adopt a long-range planning horizon, and take calculated risks. Understanding the risk-reward trade-offs that are inherent to low-earth orbit (LEO) missions is a top-order policy priority. Low-earth orbit offers the biggest opportunity for public-private partnerships that free up

government resources to plan for ambitious “over-the-horizon” goals (lunar settlements, Mars exploration). At the same time, near space is becoming congested and contested25 as more countries develop their own foundational capabilities (eg., in-space assembly, on-earth space manufacturing, dual-use technologies). A related risk for Canada is that the growing reliance on satellite technology for everyday activities (financial transactions, navigation using GPS telecommunications,) may expose more people to unexpected disruptions (eg., adverse space weather conditions, asteroid and orbiting spacecraft collisions) with little or no advanced warning.

The militarization of space poses a much bigger concern since it raises the prospect of threatening behavior (eg., radio-frequency jammers, blinding lasers, spoofing, earth-to-space missiles)26 by adversarial countries that could deliberately degrade Canada’s situational awareness and freedom of mobility.27 Internationally, government space expenditures have grown by 51% over the past five years and 16% in the last year.28 While the United States remains the dominant space power, competing powers such as China, India, and Russia have tested ground-based anti-satellite weapons (ASATs) using kinetic (missile) and non-kinetic (laser) methods.29 In February 2024, the spectre of a space-based nuclear arms race emerged after a U.S. White House spokesperson stated that Russia’s is seeking to develop a more sophisticated anti-satellite capability, in direct contravention of international treaties banning such activity.30 

2024 and Beyond

Strategic investments in Canada’s space infrastructure share the same revolutionary promise as historic developments in the national railway, national highway system, air transportation sector, and more recently, in the cyber domain. These infrastructure megaprojects have been crucial for Canada’s sovereignty, political stability, global competitiveness, and are instrumental to overcoming the physical, technological, and geographic frontiers of space.   

Today’s space explorations are defined by more human spaceflights to new orbital hubs, scientific discovery and science diplomacy on multi-functional space stations, novel space tourism business models, and the convergence of civilian and military space capabilities. Even though no one has walked on the moon in 50 years, several countries are planning to establish economically viable lunar settlements (probably under ground) sometime in the 2030s. Once the moon has been colonized, deep space expeditions to Mars will not be such a remote possibility.      

Undoubtedly, human spaceflight presents the ultimate infrastructure challenge of this century. The countries leading the design and development of space infrastructure will gain a strategic advantage in global governance (resource extraction), situational awareness, diplomatic and military alliances, and raw power projection. Sustaining Canada’s long-term presence in space depends on how well the federal government plans for expected events (eg., working in zero-gravity conditions, retirement of the International Space Station in 2020) and its ability to anticipate and plan for high-impact, low-frequency disruptions. Without adequately investing in Canada’s next-generation infrastructure, the federal government risks abdicating its responsibility to project and safeguard the country’s national interest.  

Looking to the future, the federal government has proposed additional funding for Canada’s space exploration and research programs. The 2024 Budget earmarks $8.6 billion of new federal funding to the Canadian Space Agency for initiatives such as the Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program (LEAP), a five-year project that supports innovative technologies relevant for the US-led Artemis missions, moon landing and exploration missions, and to help develop commercial technologies needed for future deep-space missions.31 

The 2024 budget also proposes $30 billion over 20 years for North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) modernization and $11.5 billion over 20 years for Canada’s North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) contributions, like the Halifax-based NATO Defence Innovation Accelerator for the North Atlantic.32 These funding allocations build on the 2023 Budget which earmarked $1.1 billion over 14 years to extend Canada’s participation on the International Space Staton (ISS) until 2030, $76 million over eight years for scientific experiments on the Lunar Gateway, and $1.2 billion over 13 years to develop a lunar rover.33 

The Government of Canada has also committed to establishing a National Space Council (NSC), co-chaired by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the Department of National Defence (DND), that will advise national policymakers on space exploration, space utilization, technology development, research and security. Later this year, the NSC is expected to invite 20 departments and agencies to collectively engage with industry and academic stakeholders on how best to shape Canada’s space governance framework. 

Together, these infrastructure investments demonstrate the federal government’s ongoing commitment to harness the potential economic and scientific benefits of human spaceflight. Nevertheless,  the latest trends suggest that the federal government will continue to exercise an active role in space but not a dominant one.

The Spaceport Nova Scotia may be the first test of that hypothesis.    

Spaceport Nova Scotia 

The Canadian government and the private sector have traditionally relied upon foreign launching states, principally the United States and Russia, to dispatch satellites into space. But the private construction of a world-class space launch facility in Nova Scotia could be a game changer for Canada’s space sovereignty, the country’s space sector, and its lacklustre economy.  

The commercial spaceport facility, located at the northeastern point of Nova Scotia near Canso (Guysborough District Municipality), is scheduled to begin orbital launch services in 2025.34 Much like the way an airport functions, the 344-acre spaceport will enable global launch vehicles to place domestic and foreign-owned satellites (not exceeding 1,250 kgs initially) into polar and sun-synchronous orbits. With the capacity to conduct eight satellite launches annually, Spaceport Nova Scotia will strengthen Canada’s environmental monitoring, earth observation, imaging, broadband, and global telecommunications.35 

As a regional innovation hub, Spaceport Nova Scotia presents significant growth opportunities for the Atlantic region, the province of Nova Scotia, and the Halifax Regional Municipality which is located about 370 kms southwest of Canso. In addition to reducing licensing and logistical costs for Canadian space companies, the domestic space launch facility is likely to be a catalyst for research and development at Halifax’s many universities and a magnet for business and leisure travelers. Once it is fully operational the spaceport is projected to generate $300 million annually to Canada’s GDP and support 1,000 jobs across the country.36 

Predicting the spaceport’s long-term economic potential is a little harder, notwithstanding the rising global demand for satellite technology.37 As more countries and companies establish foundational capabilities in the decades ahead it is conceivable that Spaceport Nova Scotia could be leveraged for strategic partnership engagements with promising spacefaring nations,  build a world-class space manufacturing hub, and to cultivate a Canadian space tourism market. With visionary leadership and strategic foresight, the possibilities are remarkable.  


Canada has distinguished itself as a second-tier, spacefaring nation for six decades. This experience has enabled Canada to establish niche capabilities and critical expertise in space operations, satellite technology, space robotics, and earth observation (EO) services. Canada is well-positioned to maintain this advantage in the “new space age.” However, the next phase of space exploration and utilization promises to be much more demanding as more countries and companies commit to developing foundational capabilities, faster. The opportunities are considerable but so are the risks. The primary dilemma for Canadian policymakers is harnessing the dynamic tension inherent between government and private industry with a view to strengthening its strategic advantage. Moving forward, the federal government will continue to exercise an active role in space but not necessarily as a pioneering trendsetter.

 1. Canadian Space Agency (CSA), “History of the Canadian Astronaut Corps,” (10 January 2020).

2.  National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), “NASA, Canadia Space Agency Formalize Gateway Partnership for Artemis Program,” News Release (16 December 2020).

3. Canadian Space Agency, “A New Space Strategy for Canada,” (2019).

4. Government of Canada, Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) and Space, “Combined Space Operations Vision 2031.” (22 February 2022).

5. Canadian Space Agency (CSA), “To Stay at the Cutting Edge of Earth Observation, Canada is Seeking Ideas from Industry,” News Release (2020).

6. Auditor General of Canada, Reports to Parliament, “Report 6 – Arctic Waters Surveillance” (November 2022).

7. Government of Canada, Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), “3 Canadian Space Division,” (11 October 2022).

8. Global Affairs Canada (GAC), “Canada’s Views on Reducing Space Threats Through Norms, Rules and Principles of Responsible Behaviour,” Submission to UN Resolution pursuant to OP5 and 6 of UN GA A/RES/75/36. (May 2022).

9. Canadian Space Agency CSA), “2021 and 2022 State of the Canadian Space Sector Report: Facts and Figures 2021 and 2022,” (21 June 2023).

10. Canadian Space Agency CSA), “2021 and 2022 State of the Canadian Space Sector Report: Facts and Figures 2021 and 2022,” (21 June 2023).

11. Deloitte, “Reaching Beyond: A $40 Billion Canadia Space Economy by 2040,” (January 2024).

12. The Space Foundation, “2023 Annual Report” (March 2024).

13. The Space Foundation, “2023 Annual Report” (March 2024).

14. Namrata Goswami and Peter Garretson, “The Strategic Implications of China’s Divine Dragon Spaceplane,” The Diplomat (12 January 2024).

15. World Economic Forum (WEF), “Space: The 1.8 Trillion Opportunity for Global Economic Growth,” Insight Report (April 2024).

16. Eric Berger, “Analyst on Starlink’s Rapid Rise Nothing Short of Mind-Blowing,” ARS Technica (5 May 2024).

17. Alan Boyle, “Amazon’s Project Kuiper Satellite Network Sets Up Logistics Site and Training Program,” GeekWire (14 May 2024).

18. Desmond Thompson, “Launching Rockets from African Soil? Hold On, It’s Coming,” University World News (14 May 2024).

19. Government of Australia, Australian Space Agency, “About Us,” (accessed 19 May 2024).; Government of New Zealand, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, New Zealand Space Agency, “About Us,” (22 April 2022).

20. Aeden Yohannan, “China’s Space Strategy Dwarfs U.S Ambitions,” The National Interest (11 March 2024).

21. Leo Komminoth, “Djibouti Signs $1bn Rocket Deal With Hong Kong Company,” African Business (10 January 2023).

22. World Economic Forum (WEF), “Saudi Arabia to Launch a Cener for Space Futures in the Forum’s Fourth Industrial Revolution Network,” (29 April 2024).

23. Axiom Space, National Astronauts, Mission Services (accessed 20 May 2024).

24. Cody Combs, “Saudi Arabia Seeks to Bolster Space Credentials Through WEF Partnership,” In Space (29 April 2024).

25. Canada, Library of Parliament, “The Growing Complexity of Space: Implications for Security and Stability,” Hill Studies (July 2022).

26.  Government of Canada, National Defense, “Strong Secure Engaged: Canada’s Defense Policy.” (2017).

27. Canada, Library of Parliament, “The Growing Complexity of Space: Implications for Security and Stability,” Hill Studies (July 2022).

28. The Space Foundation, “2023 Annual Report” (March 2024).

29. Mark Smith, “Anti-Satellite Weapons, History, Types and Purpose,” (10 August 2022).

30. United States White House, “Press Briefing by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and White House National Security Secretary John Kirby,” Briefing Room (15 February 2024).; Spencer A Warren, Is Russia Looking to Put Nukes in Space? Doing So Would Undermine Global Stability and Ignite An Anti-Satellite Arms Race,” The Conversation (17 February 2024).

31. Canadian Space Agency (CSA), “About the Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program,” (21 May 2020).

32. Government of Canada, “Budget 2024: Fairness for Every Generation,” (16 April 2024).

33. Canadian Space Agency (CSA), “Significant Investments to Further Propel Canadian Space Exploration,” (29 March 2023).

34. Maritime Launch, “Maritime Launch Receives Conditional Term Sheet from Government of Canada for Contribution Under the Strategic Initiative Fund,” Latest News (13 May 2024).

35. The Conference Board of Canada, “Launching Canada’s Space Sector: Economic Impact of Spaceport Nova Scotia,” (May 2023).

36. The Conference Board of Canada, “Launching Canada’s Space Sector: Economic Impact of Spaceport Nova Scotia,” (May 2023).

37. Chris Daehnick, John Gang, and Ilan Rozenkopf, “Space Launch: Are Ee Heading for Oversupply or a Shortfall?” McKinsey and Company (April 2023).