Canadian SmallSat Symposium Surpasses Expectations

Canadian SmallSat Symposium Group Photo

For the Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA), the first Canadian SmallSat Symposium was a success beyond what had been expected. It wasn’t just the numbers, 219 registered attendees, it was the quality of the speakers, the diversity in attendees, the bilateral meetings, and a commitment to detail by the Association that resulted in a great event. But beyond the people and the programming, it was the topic of the event that really propelled it forward. It seems small satellites and their related technologies and services, a topic of hot conversation for several years, was something Canadians and international participants really wanted to get together and discuss.

It’s no coincidence that the CSCA picked this topic. When the Association drew up its business plan for 2015 it deliberately looked at the marketplace and searched for a topic that would be compelling, timely and have an impact for its first major event.

The tag line we chose was “It’s about opportunity, building capability and international partnerships.”

The opportunity is clear as outlined in several research reports including Euroconsult’s 2015 report that indicated the growing market value of future SmallSats over the next five years is estimated at $7.4 billion.

Building capability is clear with the existing exemplary and innovative work being done by the Space Flight Laboratory in Toronto and the growing educational opportunities at several universities including the University of Alberta, Concordia University, University of Manitoba, Victoria University, York University and others. Even traditional heavyweights such as MDA and Telesat are pursuing the SmallSat market.

International partnerships is a work in progress. Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) has been an international partner with Canadian companies for some time. Others are just learning about the capabilities available in Canada. Several international attendees commented that Canada doesn’t do enough to promote its capabilities. If that’s the case, then we’ve succeeded in small way by bringing more attention to what Canadian companies can do.

Canada has purposefully built a perception of being able to serve “niche markets”. While it is the case that Canada can and does serve “niche markets”, the Canadian sector is much more than that. Canada has a growing technology base and many companies who don’t count themselves as space companies, can, and do contribute to the space sector. The CSCA is committed to to identifying opportunity, showcasing capability and introducing Canadian companies to possible international partners.

Some of the highlights of the Symposium included the opening inspirational plenary by Grey Wyler of OneWeb. OneWeb’s goal to “enable affordable internet access for everyone” serves both a humanitarian effort and is helping to drive the SmallSat marketplace.

Sylvain Laporte, the President of the Canadian Space Agency spoke in broad terms of Canada’s space program but did emphasize early in his talk a renewed commitment to have an ongoing and continuous dialogue with industry including noting that the new government and leadership had a common interest to “engage in (a) more intense level of collaboration, discussion and dialogue going forward.” In my mind this was a positive signal industry has been looking for. The Association looks forward to working with government on behalf of its members to further develop the marketplace.

When asked a multi-part question related to SmallSat’s and planetary exploration program including if Canada could lead a mission, Laporte’s emphatic answer was “yes, yes and yes.” It’s clear that Mr. Laporte is able to discuss Canada’s space program openly now that the constraints of the previous government have been removed.

An important part of the symposium was the participation by students. About 12% of the attendees were students from across the country. They participated in a student mini-symposium and had access to the full program. They also  had the opportunity to interact with industry and government participants. For the Association, we feel it is critical to engage students in our activities as they constitute the future workforce, and will, with access to the events such as this one, bring new innovative ideas to the community.

These are just a couple of the many highlights from the Symposium. In the coming weeks we’ll release video and the presentations so that a wider audience can participate after the fact and learn what was said and its relevance to the SmallSat community.

The second Canadian SmallSat Symposium will take place in 2017, likely in the fall. A date will be set soon so that interested participants will have more than a year to plan. For more information visit https://smallsat.ca and sign up for our newsletter on https://spacecommerce.ca.

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Marc Boucher
Executive Director