Canada bleeding aerospace talent by not embracing rocketry

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Canada is experiencing a brain drain on its top aerospace talent, because there are no homegrown rocketry programs they can contribute to, an expert says.

That’s not to say Canada is falling behind in the space industry in general, but it has lost ground in some areas by focusing on other endeavours such as satellites and robotics, according to Jeremy Wang, chief technology officer for an Ontario drone company called The Sky Guys.

“The leadership that Canada has had has become very much channelled into signature areas,” Wang told CTV’s Your Morning. He pointed out that much of the Canadian Space Agency’s budget now goes toward satellites, the Canadarm and the International Space Station, with no effort made to establish rocket facilities that could launch these projects into space from Canada itself. Instead, Canada must enlist other countries such as the U.S. to send its projects into orbit or beyond.

Wang says that can put Canadian research projects and space-related business ventures in a bind, because it’s hard to guarantee that something will be launched at the needed time.

“It sort of leaves us at the mercy of the schedules and launch times of other launch providers,” Wang said.

“There was a time when Canada was a world leader in rocket technology,” Wang said. But that time was more than 60 years ago, when Canada started building and launching research rockets for atmospheric tests in the 1950s. Interest in developing the program further petered out shortly after the first rockets were launched, and Canada did not take another serious look at rocketry until 2011, when it mulled a satellite launch pad. However, that program ultimately never got off the ground.

Wang says Canada could reclaim some of the leadership it once demonstrated in the field of rocketry by refocusing some of its budget on creating Canadian launch facilities for small satellites. Otherwise, he predicts the country will continue to see homegrown aerospace experts leaving for other nations where they can actually work on rockets.

“We see a lot of students that leave Canada trying to find work in the United States or Europe,” Wang said. However, this strategy is also a difficult one to pursue for these students, because many nations do not allow foreign-born employees to work on their major aerospace projects.

Instead, some of these Canadians are winding up with private space industries. Canadian Andrew Rader, for instance, now works for Elon Musk’s SpaceX as a mission manager.

Wang says the smart move for Canadian science and business would be to refocus some of its efforts on rocketry.

“Space is a place for business,” he said. “It’s part of our world, it’s no longer beyond our world and we’ve got to accept that.”