Kate HowellsMar 29, 2021

Recommendations for the Future of Canadian Space Exploration

In early 2021 the Canadian Space Agency invited Canadians to share their vision for the future of Canada's space exploration activities. The Planetary Society submitted the following recommendations and asked our members throughout Canada to echo the same recommendations. 

The Planetary Society calls on Canada to invest in planetary science and exploration.

The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has called on the Canadian public and stakeholders in the space community to share their vision for Canada’s future in space. Although this call for input is centered around Canada’s current plans for human space exploration, The Planetary Society believes that planetary science and robotic exploration are important areas for Canada to develop its overall vision for space. 

Canada has a long and fruitful history of partnering with other space agencies on planetary science missions. Most recently, Canada contributed instruments to NASA’s MSL Curiosity Mars rover, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft, and plans to be a major partner in NASA’s proposed Mars ice-mapping mission. With Canada signed on as a partner on Project Artemis, the CSA has also established the Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program to support science and technology development.

However, in recent years Canada has struggled to provide adequate funding to support Canadian instruments on major international planetary science missions. Because of a lack of financial and policy commitments from the federal government, Canadian researchers have been unable to take advantage of opportunities to contribute instruments for NASA’s competitively-selected planetary missions. Although we celebrate Canada’s commitment to Project Artemis, The Planetary Society urges the CSA to provide Canadian researchers with the funding needed to ensure significant contributions to international planetary science missions. 

Canada has also never led an independent planetary science mission of its own. While partnering with its allies is good policy and a smart use of limited funds, The Planetary Society believes that the CSA can increase its commitment to space science by spearheading its own planetary missions.

Fundamental advances in smallsat technology and commercial launch vehicles have opened up the realm of solar system exploration to the world. Scientifically relevant missions can now be done for a fraction of the cost of previous efforts. And nations like India, the United Arab Emirates, and South Korea are proving these concepts and pushing the limits of low-cost planetary exploration at the Moon and Mars.

Canada has the talent, skill, and interest among its population and workforce to support greater involvement in planetary science and exploration. All that is needed is the political will to make it happen. 

Accordingly, The Planetary Society urges the Government of Canada and the Canadian Space Agency to take the following steps:

  1. Consult with Canadian researchers to develop long-range plans for Canada’s planetary science and exploration activities;

  2. Increase opportunities for participation on international missions by committing to fund, in advance, any Canadian instrument selected for those missions; and

  3. Commit to a regular cadence of Canadian-led planetary science missions.

Funding planetary exploration is a targeted investment to ensure Canada’s independence in its academic, high-tech, and skilled workforce. With consistent funding and clear scientific goals, Canada can invest in its future, challenge and inspire its citizens, and contribute to humanity’s knowledge of the cosmos.

Any follow-up comments or questions can be directed to Kate Howells at [email protected].

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