What’s the future for space?

The White House, Senate and House of Representatives may be stalled on the future of American space policy, but space exploration remains a public fascination. Look no further than this summer’s movie theatre, where blockbusters like Elysium, Oblivion and After Earth about the end of the world largely cratered while the Star Trek franchise continued to soar.

We remain attached to the idea of going where no man has gone before.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear what the future holds for the American space program. As Elliott Pulham of the Space Foundation told the Aerospace Industries Association of Canada summit in Ottawa yesterday, a sector once led by a government agency – think NASA – and the military, is now largely driven by commercial ventures.

In fact, although U.S. investment has declined, the global market has increased significantly as more countries enter and grow the space market.

That underscores an obvious need for Canadian companies to find more opportunities in global supply chains. Pulham noted that while the perception in Canada is of a declining space budget, despite visibility for the program generated by astronaut Chris Hadfield, reality is that, unlike south of the border, the Canadian Space Agency has seen relatively stable funding over the previous five years and is forecast to see similar budgets through 2015. That’s not investment, exactly, but it certainly is not neglect.

Pulham pointed to several problematic issues for the U.S. program that could affect Canadian interests, among them the impact of sequestration on NASA and on military satellite programs, the dicey relationship between presidents Obama and Putin (the U.S. remains dependant on Russia for the success of the International Space Station), and the rise of China as smart partner for countries entering the space sector. China, he said, “understands how to work with emerging nations,” something the U.S. does not.

The Summit continues today in Ottawa.

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