The Avro Arrow was one of the most innovative aircraft of its time, establishing Canada as a global leader in aerospace research and development. In what has been deemed the closest thing Canadian industry has to both a love story and a murder mystery, the program was cancelled by the Diefenbaker government in 1959. The shuttering of the Arrow program resulted in the loss of at least 25,000 jobs.
It was the ultimate brain drain. More than 33 senior Canadian engineers left for NASA and made an indelible mark on the manned space program and lunar landing 10 years later. Among them was Canada’s Owen Maynard, who oversaw NASA’s Lunar Module Program and played a key role in the design of the module.
The first successful moon landing was nothing short of momentous. Roughly 650 million viewers watched those first few steps on their television screens, cementing the United States as the winner of the global space race. However, underpinning the moon landing is a lesser-known Canadian contribution.
The move south by Maynard and others, while an immense gesture to Canadian ingenuity, was a significant exodus of Canada’s brightest minds. This has since become an unfavorable trend, not just for the aerospace industry, but from our country’s science and engineering ranks more broadly. A recent study found that one-in-four STEM graduates from three leading Canadian universities opted to work outside Canada. Eight-in-10 chose the United States.
Meanwhile, technology for space exploration has gained momentum and public attention in recent years, providing Canadian companies with the opportunity to re-assert themselves as global leaders. As NASA signals its intention to return to the moon and sends new vehicles to Mars, companies on our home soil are thriving, innovating and delivering key technologies for space exploration, sensing and communication.
Turning to Saskatchewan, Calian Advanced Technologies (previously SED Systems) has been delivering world-class solutions for defence, deep space exploration, satellite operations and telecommunications for more than 50 years.
There is great potential to make Saskatchewan the Canadian destination for STEM talent. Our goal is to create and maintain highly skilled jobs in the province and across the country, especially in the area of science, technology and engineering.
Yet sustaining local and national competitiveness relies on innovation and bringing the right solutions to market. Government support can help accelerate innovation and commercialization of space and satellite communications, bolstering Saskatchewan’s position domestically and abroad. Canada’s space companies, including Calian, are already providing solutions here on Canadian soil and are generating export sales from foreign clients.
In Saskatchewan, there are opportunities to invest in a future where talent thrives over the long-term, enticing highly-trained professionals and thus enhancing the long-term sustainability and diversity of the economy. Telesat LightSpeed is developing Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites that will provide high-speed broadband internet to many remote, rural and First Nations communities. These satellites will improve internet connectivity speeds, giving Saskatchewanians greater prospects of job advancement and better access to healthcare and education.
The barriers to good rural connectivity were recently identified by The Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan (APAS). Its Task Force report offered a series of recommendations to remove the barriers. These include ensuring government funding to regain Canadian excellence, taking a leadership role to build long-term sustainability, and achieving universal connectivity to realize the societal and economic benefits.
Saskatchewan has a chance to secure its future as a leader in a highly competitive global market. The province can deliver an all-Canadian solution for the Telesat LEO program, increasing accessibility for these underserved communities all while creating and sustaining local jobs.
Government must support the domestic space supply chain and help engineer Saskatchewan’s social, cultural and economic fabric.
Born and raised in Saskatchewan, Patrick Thera is President of Calian, Advanced Technologies, formerly known as SED. Based in Saskatoon, Advanced Technologies provides infrastructure for satellite ground systems across the aerospace and defence, satellite and nuclear industries.