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Will Canada dare to join the next generation space station project?

Amit Chakma is the president and vice chancellor at West University

Members of the Canadian space community including academic and business leaders are currently engaged in urgent dialogue that highlights how windows can close the opportunity for Canada to play a leadership role in the development of the global space economy, as well as the next steps in space exploration.

The impetus for this timely conversation is the nascent Lunar Gateway, an international project coordinated by NASA that will empower human expansion throughout the solar system. In collaboration with public and private partners, Lunar Gateway envisions the design and construction of small stations that will be sent to orbit around the moon in the next decade. From there, astronauts will build and test systems to advance lunar exploration, conduct a number of space experiments, improve satellite communications, and map future missions to destinations further including Mars.

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Unlike the International Space Station which surrounds the Earth for 400 kilometers, the Moon Gate will orbit the moon more than 400,000 kilometers away. Such achievements will require overcoming a number of scientific and technological challenges, especially those relating to robotics and artificial intelligence – a proven Canadian field of strength.

Not surprisingly, industry leaders and university researchers in various scientific disciplines see the scale and complexity of the Lunar Gateway as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to apply their expertise to interesting collaborative projects with global implications and potentially astronomical economic benefits.

Canadians have many reasons to be enthusiastic about the Gateway project, starting with an impressive history in space 60 years ago. We are the third country to launch satellites into orbit (Alouette 1 in 1962); the first to operate a domestic telecommunications satellite (Anik in 1972); and the first to deploy live broadcasting services to homes in 1982. "Canadarm" used in the Space Shuttle and International Space Station missions has become an icon of national pride and a symbol of world-renowned Canadian ingenuity. Only the United States and Russia sent more astronauts into space than Canada.

However, while space agencies from the United States, Europe, Russia and Japan are lining up to partner at the Lunar Gateway, Canada's level of commitment to international business remains a question mark. In fact, over the past few years, Canada's place in space has fallen. While other countries in space have increased their investment in space as a percentage of GDP, Canada has slipped from eighth place in 1992 to 18 in 2016, and our investment has not been guided by decades of long-term plans.

However, there are hopeful signs that supporting a more ambitious Canadian space strategy might grow, driven by some interesting economic arguments. For example, Morgan Stanley recently predicted that the revenue generated by the global space industry could increase to US $ 1.1 trillion by 2040, compared to the 2017 global space market estimated at US $ 380 billion. This predicted growth will be driven by the rapid expansion of Earth and satellite communications observations over the next 20 years, serving more and more applications that depend on satellite imagery, remote sensing and global positioning data to improve our quality of life and security.

Speculation is also increasing that more traditional industries, such as mining, will soon be staking their claims in space. Scientists theorize that soccer-sized asteroids can contain precious metals valued at up to US $ 50 billion. By extrapolating NASA data that has around 18,000 asteroids orbiting near the Earth, the total value of nearby celestial minerals can reach US $ 700-trillion. Bet that this is not just science fiction, Luxembourg set up a US $ 225 million fund in 2016 to attract entrepreneurial space companies to set up shop in the country, where the goal is to become a world leader in space mining and start searching for potential customers. asteroid in 2020.

At the same time, it is important to note that investment in space exploration has a significant positive effect on the Canadian economy and the welfare of Canadians. From the application of Canadarm's expertise in developing NeuroArm for brain operations for the use of instruments designed for Mars exploration into the mining industry, space exploration encourages innovation and pushes the limits of technological development.

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On September 12, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains named the professor of physics and astronomy at the Western University, Sarah Gallagher, as the first Science Advisor for the Canadian Space Agency. In his new role, Prof. Gallagher will help promote space science and shape the direction of space research in the future. A week later, Minister of Science and Sports Kirsty Duncan announced that Natural Sciences and the Technical Research Council funded a public awareness campaign led by the Western Center for Planet Science and Exploration: "Space Matters," which aims to highlight the importance of space for Canada and how it touches almost every aspect of our daily lives.

These are positive signs that our government leaders see Canada's potential in space. But we need to take some bold steps that require large investments by the government. The stakes are too high and the time is too short if we are serious about allowing the next generation of Canadian explorers and businessmen to secure this country's place in the developing space economy. Canada can and must be an important player at the Lunar Gateway Project.

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