Greater Canadian military role in space?
2010-11-25 0:00

By Peter Rakobowchuk |

It wonít look like a scene from Star Wars, but the man in charge of space development for the defence department predicts the initial steps of the next major conflict are more than likely to start in orbit and Canada should be prepared.

There will "absolutely" be more of a military role for Canada in space than in the past, Col. Andre Dupuis said on Saturday as he discussed the defence departmentís plans to overhaul its space defence policy.

"The first line in the sand for the next major conflict may very well be in space or cyberspace, but probably not on the ground or in the air or in the seas," Dupuis said in an interview while attending the annual conference of the Canadian Space Society.

Canadaís first space policy came out 12 years ago and Dupuis is worried by what has since been going on above our heads in recent years, especially the activities of China.

"A lot of water has gone under the bridge since 1998 and the environment has changed," he told the conference.

"Since that time, weíve seen an unintended collision between two satellites in space and an anti-satellite test by the Chinese."

In February, 2009, an American communications satellite slammed into a Russian military satellite and China used a missile to destroy one of its weather satellites in 2007.

Those two events added about 20 per cent more space debris around the Earth, "making the environment congested, contested and competitive," Dupuis said.

The defence departmentís new space defence policy is almost complete and has reached the highest levels for final review, he said.

Dupuis told the conference the policy "recognizes space as an operational environment" and provides guidance on how to exploit it in support of Canadian Forces operations.

Dupuis says the satellite destruction by the Chinese was a clear indication the Chinese are planning ways to conduct operations in space.

"Not space warfare, but operations in space to deny the advantage frankly to the West," he said.

But what worries Dr. James Fergusson, the director of Canadaís centre for defence and security studies, is that the public really doesnít care much about whatís going on in space.

"For the public at large, space is out of sight and out of mind," he told the conference. "The publicís idea is Hollywood ...thatís by and large their notion of space."

The University of Manitoba professor says space will take on a growing significance in the future, "itís importance to our security, its importance to our economic well being (and) our way of life."

Fergusson concludes that so far attempts to get the public interested have failed miserably.

Another panellist, Doug Bancroft, director-general of the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing, part of National Resources Canada, said the only effective way to monitor the country is from space.

For example, satellite data is useful when it comes to keeping an eye on large projects like pipelines, oil sands and the off-shore, Bancroft said.

"Itís not the big Exxon Valdez oil or the Mexican Gulf disaster, itís people dumping bilge water in the middle of the night," Bancroft said. "That was killing millions of sea birds on Canadaís shoreline."

He notes that oceans are now being monitored by Canadaís Radarsat satellite in real time.

"And if a ship is putting out a spill in the middle of the night, weíll send out a Transport Canada aircraft and nail their sorry asses," he said.

Jean-Claude Piedboeuf of the Canadian Space Agency, admits the agency has been looking at ways to get the public engaged in space exploration.

"This is a key," he said. "If we cannot demonstrate the benefit of space exploration for Canadians, obviously Canadians will say why are you doing that?"

The head of Exploration Planning says thatís exactly what the agency is now working on.

Piedboeuf also says he hopes to have a space exploration plan ready by the end of next March.

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