Canada's space industry faces challenges penetrating global markets: study

MONTREAL – A new study says Canada has experienced a small bounce in its space competitiveness and retains a skilled workforce but is still facing future challenges.

The observation was made by U.S.-based space forecaster Futron Corporation in its 2014 space competitiveness index.

Futron director David Vaccaro says Canada generally has had a very good year and made advancements against all other countries except Russia, Europe and South Korea.

“If you can picture a race where there are 15 runners running and they are all in motion, it just means that Canada was running faster than 12 countries, but not running as fast as three countries,” he said in an interview.

Futron, based in Bethesda, Md., collects data for the 15 leading space industry players, including Canada.

Vaccaro also said Canadian companies still haven’t penetrated international markets to the extent they can.

“They don’t necessarily turn up in the European markets or the emerging Asian markets or for that matter in some unlikely markets like South America and Africa,” he said.

“I think those are markets Canada could play well in.”

Industry spokesman Chuck Black said he doesn’t believe the Canadian Space Agency will play any significant role in generating future business, adding it’s simply become a facilitator.

“The future of the space industry in Canada are bilateral agreements between small organizations, between companies, between universities and the international market,” he said in an interview.

“I don’t think a lot of it will go through the Canadian Space Agency.”

An official at the space agency said there would be no response to the Futron report.

Black, the director of the Canadian Space Commerce Association, also said he doesn’t expect the CSA to get any additional funding from the federal government in the foreseeable future.

“Frankly the $300 million a year they get, at this point, it keeps the lights on at its headquarters,” he added.

Black’s organization is an industry group that represents about 40 small and large space companies in Canada.

Futron’s Vaccaro agreed with Black that the bigger question is the fate of long-term space funding in Canada.

In its seventh annual report, Futron also questions whether increased levels of funding for Canada’s RADARSAT Constellation Mission are sustainable.

The final development costs for the Canadian Space Agency-led project have already jumped to more than $1 billion from $600 million.

The $1 billion includes a $706-million contract that was signed with Macdonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (TSX:MDA) in January 2013 to build the three satellites, launch them in 2018 and operate them for the first year.

In Futron’s space competitiveness index, the United States remains the leader, but it is the only nation to decline for seven straight years.