On my last post on Canadian Niches in Space, I singled out Canadian rocketry and made the incredible claim that there were only 2 companies producing space propulsion and rocket technology. This goal of this post is to explain the scope of my research and to go a little more in depth on the status of commercial rocketry in Canada.
To find this implausible number:
– I ignored university research in propulsion as well as government agencies like the CSA, a difficult choice that was motivated by my desire to put an emphasis on the commercial market driven by private industry. This is a conversation I would be interested in engaging with in the comments.
– I also left out aerospace companies that dealt only in airplanes or drones; my criterion was having the capacity to sustain a body or intentionally project a body into low-earth orbit.
– Finally, I left out space-related consulting firms that do not also do manufacturing of some kind as I was looking for companies that produced original, tangible goods in Canada. However it should be noted that the prevalence of Canadian consulting firms specializing in space tech was immediately obvious from the lists I looked at. This speaks volumes to me about the pool of expertise and knowledge we have at our fingertips, and I can’t help but think about what would happen if this expertise were supported in exploring new avenues.
The companies I did end up ferretting out were:
– Cesaroni Technology Inc, which has a section on their website devoted to payload delivery systems including collaboration on the DARPA Falcon Project (credited as being capable of launching small satellites) as well as their Canadian Small Launch Vehicle, also created for the express purpose of launching small satellites.
– Magellan Aerospace, who has done contract work with the CSA on past satellites (recently the CASSIOPE mission) and creates a rocket propulsion system called the Black Brant that is capable of bringing small satellites into orbit.
Both of these companies are primarily weapons and defense companies that contract a lot of work out to the US military. Hardly surprising; a lot of American and European rocketry companies (like Lockheed-Martin, Boeing and Airbus) also have a primary income coming from military tech.
So why are there so few companies that do propulsion in a country with over 180 registered organizations that do work in space? As I touched on in my last post, the biggest reason is our lack of a launch site. Currently if any company wants to bring technology into orbit, the only option is to cross the border to one of the launch sites in Florida, Nevada, California, Virginia, or Alaska. With tariffs, security clearance, and a lousy exchange rate, calling it an unrealistic business venture is an understatement for too many interest parties.
During the Cold War, Canada had numerous launch sites in remote places like Nunavut and Northern Saskatchewan, where we launched a number of sounding rockets and practice defence systems. However all of these were inactive by the late 80s. A Halifax company called Open Space Orbital also tried to gain funding and raise public interest as recently as 2014 through Kickstarter, however a combination of low levels support from the then-Conservative government, inadequate interest from the CSA and a lack of public awareness meant that the plans at the time fell through. This initiative, however, has by no means diminished; a consulting company by day, they are currently working with several partner organizations like the CSCA to try again.