Students speak out about languishing space sector
Student groups across Canada are urging candidates to address Canada’s flagging space sector. Eleven student organizations, from British Columbia to Quebec, have endorsed a call to action by the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space in Canada (SEDS-CAN) that explains how Canada’s space sector is dismally unable to meet the needs of Canadian students.
The space sector is a small but important part of Canada’s manufacturing economy. According to Industry Canada, the Canadian space sector generates $3.5 billion every year, employing over 8,200 Canadians. This sector used to be an important global player, notably while Canada was designing and developing the Canadarm. But Canada’s space sector has been withering for over a decade. SEDS-CAN points to several sustained symptoms of this decline, such as Canadian space companies shifting their work to other countries, top talent consistently leaving Canada, and a high turnover rate in Presidents of the Canadian Space Agency seemingly driven by the absence of any clear public mandate for the space sector. These processes have hollowed out a formerly robust and lucrative industry.
This decline is particularly harmful to students. Canada has world-class aerospace education programs, but it can be very difficult to find work in the Canadian space sector. Professor David Zingg, Director of the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies, says that “the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space in Canada are making a vitally important point. In order to continue to compete in the global economy, Canada must do a much better job of providing opportunities for, and therefore retaining, its PhD graduates, not only the space field, but also in aeronautics and other fields within science and engineering.” Since investment in the space industry has been consistently found to grow the economy, this neglect hurts all Canadians, particularly students, and especially those who want to work in the Canadian space sector.
There has been some recognition of the need for space investment in the current federal campaign, with the Liberals and the NDP committing to new long-term space plans. But Canada’s inattention to space development is measurable, and SEDS-CAN advocates a specific remedy. The Canadian Space Agency’s core budget was set in 1999, at $300 million. While this core budget has not changed in 16 years, a dollar now is less than it was in 1999. Using the Bank of Canada’s inflation calculator, the group explains that the CSA’s spending power has decreased by about 1/3 while its core funding has not changed. SEDS-CAN’s piece calls for the next government to raise the CSA’s core budget, at least to account for inflation. This echoes the Canadian government’s independent aerospace review, the Emerson Report, which recommended that “the Canadian Space Agency’s core funding be stabilized, in real dollar terms, for a 10-year period”.
Without this investment, the news will not improve for Canadian students, particularly for the graduates of Canada’s many strong space programs. The chair of SEDS-CAN, Kaizad Raimalwala, explains that “we have witnessed a steady exodus of young talent from Canada due to chronic neglect of the space sector here. This needs to change.” SEDS-CAN, and the eleven student groups who endorsed their letter, hope that our next government will salvage this valuable industry by investing again in space.