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Toronto’s leading space experts set their sights on TO

Sept. 30, 2014, Toronto - It’s not often a convention puts Toronto at the centre of a constellation like this one: this week’s International Astronautical Congress will draw together 3,000 stars of the space industry.


September 30, 2014
By The Toronto Star

Among those converging
here for the four-day conference will be researchers, scientists and
engineers and the heads of 30 space agencies, 90 per cent of them from
outside Canada.

 

It marks the first
time in 10 years Canada is hosting the event, which offers a boost to
domestic space efforts, said Ron Holdway, chair of the event’s
organizing committee.

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Holdway, who is also
former president of the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute, said
networking is uniquely important to the space industry, and the
conference’s location makes it more accessible to Canadian firms.

 

“You need to bring the
space agencies and the space companies together in congresses and
conferences to get them talking to each other,” he said. “It’s certainly
a lot cheaper for Canadians to travel to a show or a congress in
Toronto than Cape Town, South Africa.”

 

Holdway said space ventures are expensive, and insufficient government funding often necessitates international co-operation.

 

Even China, he said, a country that appears to have gone into space alone, has had some form of outside help.

 

“Much of their launch and satellite programs are based technology and designs they got from the Russians,” he said.

 

“Because of the high
costs of space programs — to go to Mars or going to the asteroids, or
wherever it may go in the future — no one country can afford to go at it
alone.”

 

The Canadian Space
Agency’s $300-million annual budget is undergoing a 10 per cent cut over
three years that was introduced in 2012.

 

The agency is expected
to sign a memorandum of understanding with its Israeli counterpart on
Monday. Israel, which will hosts next year’s congress, has a less
well-known presence on the International Space Station than Canada.

 

Professor Isaac Ben-Israel, head of the Israel Space Agency, says there’s an explanation for that.

 

“There is no big
difference in the capabilities, the number of satellites, etc.,” he said
in an interview. “Usually we’ve spent money only on defence space
activities, and years ago we changed it and started to invest government
money in civilian space activities — on science, research, commercial,
and things like that.”

 

Ben-Israel added that the Futron space index, published in the United States, puts Israel one step behind Canada.

 

“If you read the
analysis they gave, they always say that in terms of technology, we are a
leading country, but what lowers our mark, our grade, is the scale of
civilian activity. And this is what we are trying to change.”

 

Ben-Israel added, “If
you ask me, the main reason for (Canada’s more well-known presence) is
the Canadian arm on the space station and the Canadian flag,” which is
visible on the arm.

 

The Canada arm is a
system that grabs supply-delivering crafts to help them dock at the
International Space Station — a giant orbiting laboratory whose future
may be addressed in a plenary session Monday afternoon, where major
space agencies outline their developments.

The United States has
said it will continue to support the space station until at least 2024,
but Canada so far is committed only to 2020.

 

Pierre Jean, who manages the Canadian Space Agency’s involvement, says the space station should be able to operate until 2028.

 

“When we did the
initial structural analysis of the system, we planned it for 30 years,”
he said in an interview. “We wanted to make sure the design was robust,
(and) if anything, it was over-designed.”

 

Jean said the Canadian government would need to decide “within the next two or three years” whether to extend its support.

 

“The latest it could
be would probably be in 2018,” he said, adding that the space station’s
other partners need enough lead time to know whether Canada is in or
out.

 

“If you look ahead a
year, we roughly have anywhere from four to six vehicles we’re going to
capture (through the arm) every year,” he added.

 

The robotic arm has
been “up there” since 2001, and even though light bulbs have blown out,
its cameras are still functional and operations are carried out during
daytime.

 

“Basically, there’s nothing that precludes Canadarm2 from operating indefinitely in orbit,” he added.

 

The conference starts
Monday at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. It is sponsored by the
Ontario government and is expected to infuse nearly $8.8 million into
the provincial economy.