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Will Canada Strongly Join the Next Generation Space Station Project?

Amit Chakma is the president and deputy chancellor at the western university

Members of the Canadian Space Association, including academic and business leaders, are currently engaging in an urgent dialogue that emphasizes the closure of the window in Canada to play a leading role in the development of the global space economy, as well as the next steps in space exploration.

The inspiration for this timely conversation is the emerging Lunar Gateway, an international project coordinated by NASA, which would strengthen human expansion through the Sun's system. In collaboration with public and private partners, Lunar Gateway imagines design and construction of a small station that will be sent to orbit around the Moon in the next decade. From here, the astronauts will build and test systems that will advance Lunar Research, conduct a series of deep-sea experiments, improve satellite communications, and station future missions on distant destinations, including Mars.

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Unlike the International Space Station that circulates around the Earth just 400 kilometers, Lunar Gateway would orbit the Moon more than 400,000 kilometers. Such a venture will lead to overcoming a multitude of scientific and technological challenges, especially in terms of robotics and artificial intelligence – areas of proven Canadian power.

Not surprisingly, industry leaders and university researchers across a wide range of disciplines see the introduction of Lunar Gateway's scale and complexity as a chance in one life to apply their expertise to an exciting collaborative project with truly global implications and potentially astronomical economic benefits.

Canadians have many reasons to be delighted with the Gateway project, starting with our impressive history in the space of 60 years. We were the third country to launch a satellite in the orbit (Alouette 1 1962); the first to manage the domestic telecommunications satellite (Anik 1972); and the first in 1982 to launch a direct broadcasting service. "Canadarm," used for the Space Shuttle mission and the International Space Station, has become an icon of national pride and the world-renowned Canadian emblem. Only the United States and Russia have sent more astronauts to space than Canada.

Yet while the space agencies from the United States, Europe, Russia and Japan have become partners at Lunar Gateway, the Canadian level of commitment to an international venture remains a questionnaire. In fact, the last few years Canada's place in space falls. While other countries in the universe increased their investments in space as a percentage of GDP, Canada jumped from eighth place in 1992 to 18th in 2016, and our investments have not been focused on long-term plans for decades.

There are, however, signs that strive to support a more ambitious Canadian space strategy, which can be triggered by some attractive economic arguments. For example, Morgan Stanley recently predicted that revenue generated by the global space industry would increase to $ 1.1 billion by 2040, compared to the global space market in 2017, estimating $ 380 billion. This anticipated growth will be driven by the rapid expansion of satellite observation and communications satellites over the next 20 years, utilizing an increasing number of applications that depend on satellite imagery, remote sensor and global positioning data to enhance the quality of life and security,

Speculation also increases that the more traditional industry, such as mining, will soon set its requirements in space. Scientists have theorized that one asteroid sized football field could contain precious metals worth over $ 50 billion. Extrapolating NASA data that about 18,000 asteroids spin around the Earth, the total value of the nearby celestial minerals could be over US $ 700 quintile. Betting fact that this is not just a matter of science fiction, in 2016, Luxembourg has founded a 225m-US dollar fund to drive entrepreneurial spaces to businessplaces in the country where they should become the world leader in space mining and start exploring the asteroids by 2020.

At the same time, it is important to note that investment in space research has a significant positive impact on Canada's economy and the welfare of Canadians. From applying Canadarm expertise to NeuroArma for brain surgery on the use of instruments designed to investigate Mars in the mining industry, space research drives innovation and pushes the boundaries of technology development.

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On September 12, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains called the University of California Professor of Physics and Astronomy, Sarah Gallagher, as Canada's first scientific adviser to the Canadian Space Agency. In his new role, prof. Gallagher will help promote space science and shape the future direction of the universe research. A week later, Science and Sports Minister Kirsty Duncan announced that the Science and Engineering Research Council is funding a public awareness campaign run by the Western Center for Planetary Science and Research: "Space Issues", which aims to emphasize the importance of Space for Canadians and how it touches almost every aspect of our everyday life.

These are positive signs that our government leaders see Canadian potential in the universe. But we need to take some right steps that require large investments by the government. The stakes are too high and the time is too short if we seriously allow the next generation of Canadian researchers and entrepreneurs to secure the country's place in an expanding spatial economy. Canada can and should be an important player in the Lunar Gateway project.

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