Notice to Canada: Commercial Space Launch Is Here… To Stay

Few will have any idea and even fewer yet will remember that Canada’s first spaceport was actually located in Churchill, Manitoba. First developed as a research range launching sounding rockets by the Canadian military, the site would transfer hands between the United States and Canada until it eventually fell under the ownership and control of Akjuit Aerospace Inc. – our first Canadian commercial launch provider. Near  the eve of its eventual closure in May 1998, Akjuit launched a Black Brandt 9 sounding rocket for the Canadian Space Agency – officially the first, and at that time the only, fully commercial spaceport in the world.

Eventually, however, like many things ahead of their time, Akjuit Aerospace was shuttered. For a variety of reasons, the commercial launch market hadn’t then developed as anticipated and the economics simply weren’t sustainable. Now, the range sits decommissioned and designated a national historic site.

For more than 25 years, Canada has gone without any new space launch service entrants, driving capital, jobs, knowledge and technology development south of the border – mimicking the fate of many of our resource exports.

That is until the establishment of Maritime Launch Services (“MLS”) in 2016. It too, arguably, then ahead of its time, MLS now stands perfectly timed and ideally positioned following the most recent announcement by the federal government to capitalize on a robust and growing (in orders of magnitude) global New Space economy; a chorus of investment interest and support in Canada; precipitously declining launch cost economics; and seemingly limitless interest in, and announcement of, new satellite constellations. Partnering with Montreal-based Reaction Dynamics, a crown jewel of Canada’s growing space tech ecosystem, the parties appear positioned to enable a full stack of Canadian content in our commercial launch capabilities.

On January 20, 2023, the Government of Canada officially announced its support for the modernization of the existing regulatory framework, safety standards and licensing conditions for commercial space launch. In short, the federal government will unify existing regulations, oversight and review, and develop a defined path for commercial launch, setting the stage for Canada becoming a launching state.

Collaborative, Phased Approach

The modernization of Canada’s regulatory approach to commercial launch will be introduced in a phased approach.

In the following three-year interim period, the federal government will enable commercial space launch activities that are demonstrated to be safe, secure and environmentally sustainable under existing legislation and regulations, on a case-by-case basis.

During the interim period, the federal government will collaborate with various departments and agencies to develop the regulatory framework and establish an interdepartmental review process to ensure launches are considered and approved in a manner consistent with domestic legislation, international treaties and conventions, and national security and foreign policy interests.

The federal government’s welcome announcement represents a significant policy shift with far-reaching socio-economic benefits that will eventually weave through the fabric of Canadian society. Whether one is a proponent or not of the development of the space industry in Canada, there is no debating the impact of the federal government’s stance to officially supporting commercial space launch and the resulting opportunities this will bring.

With this policy shift, we can reasonably expect that the federal government will support financially and otherwise the development of the full value chain of commercial launch services and products.

We can also expect new companies and service providers to be encouraged to expand and grow their service offerings supporting launch and adjacent services; we can expect new space technology companies to grow in Canada, being encouraged by the domestic expansion of space launch services and the corresponding retention of technical expertise; and we can expect an influx of capital into earlier stage space technology companies as smart Canadian investment firms begin to understand and try to realize upon these growth opportunities.

This decade will no doubt usher in transformative developments to the Canadian space economy. Those entering at this nascent stage will reap the benefits of their early adoption, interest and investment.

Notice to Canada… the New Space economy is finally upon us – let’s make it count.