Canada has long been one of the key players in the global space industry thanks to its culture of development and innovation. The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) was established in 1989 and it leads the space exploration activities and development of space technology in Canada.

In this article, we have collated key information on the space industry in Canada, including key moments, revenue, and employment. So continue reading to explore the Canadian space industry through statistics.

Space Industry Statistics for Canadians

  • In 1962, Canada launched the Alouette 1 satellite, becoming the third country to design its own satellite.
  • The revenues of the space industry in Canada declined in 2020 and 2021 largely due to COVID-19.
  • The space industry in Canada employs over 24,000 full-time workers.
  • Almost ¾ of the space industry’s workforce identifies as male.
  • Almost 40% of the sector’s employees are engineers and scientists.
  • Over 60% of employees in the space industry have STEM backgrounds and are highly qualified.
  • Over 90% of Canadian space industry companies are SMEs.
  • Ontario and Quebec employ 75% of the industry’s workforce and generate over 80% of its revenue.
  • Canadian universities and research centres employ almost 20% of the space industry workforce.
  • In March 2023, the Federal Government announced $2.5 billion in funding for the Canadian space industries.

Key Moments in the History of Canada’s Space Industry

Canada’s space industry has its roots in the 1960s when, in 1962, Canada launched the Alouette 1 Satellite on September 29 to study the ionosphere. With Alouette 1, Canada became only the third country in the world to design and build a satellite. The research into the ionosphere continued between 1969 and 1971 with the launch of ISIS 1 and ISIS 2 in 1969 and 1971, respectively.

In 1972, Canada made space history by launching Anik A1, which was the first domestic communications satellite in geostationary orbit in the world. This satellite provided TV and radio broadcasting across Canada, including the remote northern regions.

Another key moment in Canada’s space industry’s history came in 1981 with the development of Canadarm, a robotic arm designed and built in Canada. It was a critical component of the Space Shuttle program in the 1980s.

In 1984, Marc Garneau became the first Canadian astronaut in space. He has since been followed by 13 other astronauts as part of of the Canadian Astronaut Programme. Canada has been a key partner in the International Space Station (ISS) since 1998 and has contributed the Canadarm 2 and Dextre robotic system thus underscoring Canada’s role in space robotics. Canada has also been an active participant in the Mars Missions, for example with the Phoenix Mars Lander in 2008, which carried a meteorological station that was developed by Canadian scientists.

Space Industry Revenues and GDP Contributions

The latest available data on revenues show that in 2020, the revenues declined by 11% to $4.9 billion from $5.5 billion in 2019. The revenues remained at the same level in 2021. The decline was mainly the result of a decline in export activity, with revenues declining by 18% to $1.9 billion in 2020 and a further decline of 3% to $1.8 billion in 2021. The domestic revenues decreased less in 2020, by 6% and rebounded in 2021 by 4% totalling $3.1 billion.

Because of the pandemic-linked decline, the space sector had a negative average annual growth rate of -3.29% between 2017 and 2021. Despite the decline in revenues, the space sector’s contribution to Canada’s GDP increased between 2020 and 2021. In 2020, the industry contributed $2.7 billion to the GDP and $2.8 billion in 2021.

The sector that saw its revenue decline the most was Satellite Communications where revenues declined by 12% in 2020 and by 3% in 2021. The Satellite Communication sector had revenues of $4.6 billion in 2019 and $3.9 billion in 2021. Simultaneously, the Space Exploration sector has seen consecutive revenue growth of 11% in 2020 and 24% in 2021.

The Majority of Canadian Space Industry Companies Are SMEs

In 2021, 93% of all Canadian space companies were small or medium-sized (SMEs). The SMEs accounted for 42% of the sector’s revenues and employed 30% of the sector’s workforce. Canadian space industry SMEs concentrate heavily on engineering, research, and consulting activities.

Despite the majority of the companies being SMEs, most of the revenues, 95%, were generated by the top 30 space organisations, which include 26 companies and four universities. The top 30 organisations also represented almost 69% of the space sector’s employment and accounted for 81% of research and development.

However, the top 30 companies are not as innovative as the smaller companies. Most of the new patents and innovations in Canada come from SMEs. In 2021, SMEs were responsible for 74% of inventions and 61% of registered patents.

Most of Canada’s Space Industry is in Ontario And Quebec

While there is space industry activity across Canada, much of it is concentrated in Ontario and Quebec. This is evident when observing how employment and revenues are distributed across the country.

In 2021, 36% of the full-time jobs in the industry were in Ontario and 39% were in Quebec. The Prairie provinces employed 11% of the total full-time workforce, British Columbia 7%, and Atlantic provinces also 7%.

In the same year, 81% of the revenue was generated in Ontario and Quebec with 55% generated in Ontario and 26% in Quebec. 8% of the revenue came from the Prairie provinces, 7% from the Atlantic provinces, and 4% from British Columbia.

Employment in the Canadian Space Industry

Like so many other industries, the space industry has also experienced increased workforce challenges combined with increased competition for skilled workers. It was also impacted by the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

During 2020 employment in the space industry declined by 3% but recovered in 2021 when it grew by 7%. In 2020, the space industry supported 22,846 full-time jobs in Canada. In 2021, there were 24,190 full-time jobs within the industry. These numbers include full-time jobs in the space sector as well as jobs directly related to it, for example in the supply industry.

If we were to look at the space sector alone, the number of full-time jobs was 10,686 in 2020 and 11,629 in 2021. In 2021, 6,367 of the full-time jobs were in the supply sector and 6,194 full-time jobs were created as a result of consumer spending by employees.

The majority of the space sector jobs are in the companies designing, developing, and manufacturing space technology and equipment. In 2021, 8,588 of the space sector jobs were in publicly or privately owned companies. 2, 240 jobs were at universities and research centres, and 801 jobs were at the Canadian Space Agency.

The space industry remains a male-dominated industry. In 2021, 71% of the industry’s workforce identified as male and 29% as female.

Engineers and Scientists Represent Nearly 40% of the Industry’s Workforce

In 2021, 36% of the employees in the Canadian space industry were engineers and scientists. The next biggest sector was administration with 23%. Students represented the next biggest group at 10% followed by technicians with 8%.

Over 60% of the Space Industry Workforce has a STEM Background

Considering the nature of the space industry, it is not surprising that 62% of the industry’s employees have a background in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). It is also not surprising that 67% of the employees are highly qualified personnel (HQP).

The majority of staff who are STEM and HQP are based in Ontario and Quebec. Ontario has 36% of the industry’s staff with STEM background and 37% of HQPs and Quebec has 34% and 35%, respectively.

Research and Development

The space research and development activity reached new levels in Canada in 2020 and 2021 and the expenditure totalled $479 million and $547 million, respectively. Much of the increased activity came from the private space sector.
In 2021, organisations in the Canadian space sector reported 226 new inventions and 76 registrations for new patents.

Space Industry and Universities

Canadian universities and research centres play an important role in the space industry by supplying new talent and conducting research. In 2021, the revenues from universities and research centres amounted to $135 million, representing 2.8% of total space industry revenues.

Universities received $121 million in domestic funds in 2021, most of which came from government sources. $93 million was federal funding, $14 million provincial funding, $12,000 municipal funding and the rest came from companies and private foundations.

In addition to domestic funding, Canadian universities and research centres received funding from foreign sources that totalled 14 million in 2021. Much of the funding for space-related activities in Canada’s universities and research centres came from American organisations. In 2021, funding from America added up to $10.5 million. In the same year, $1.8 million came from the second largest contributor, which was European organisations. The remaining funding originated from other regions.

Universities and research centres accounted for 19% of the total number of full-time jobs in the space sector in 2021. It had a higher portion than the industry average of both STEMs and HQPs. In 2021, 96% of the space sector staff working at universities and research centres were STEM and 87% were HQP.

The Future of Canadian Space Industry

For Canada to keep its position as one of the leaders in the global space industry, it needs to continue investing in research and innovation. The Federal Government is supporting the space industry in Canada with funding of $2.5 billion, which was announced in March 2023.

This includes $1.1 billion to continue Canada’s participation in the ISS over the next 14 years, $76.5 million to support Canadian science on the Lunar Gateway, including the development of Canadarm 3, over the next eight years, $1.2 billion to develop a lunar utility vehicle over the next 13 years, and $150 million to the Lunar Exploration Accelerator Programme over the next five years to support and accelerate the development of new space technologies.

Conclusion

The Canadian space industry is a thriving industry that demonstrates Canada’s commitment to innovation, exploration, and collaboration. Its benefits range wider than just supporting activities in space; it is also an important part of Canada’s economy and has direct socio-economic benefits.

With significant investments, participation in major international space missions, and cutting-edge space technology, Canada has secured its role as one of the frontrunners in the space industry for years to come. By being part of space explorations, Canada continues to play an important role in increasing our understanding of space and improving the lives of not just Canadians but all people.

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, Canada has a thriving space industry. Canada has developed some key robotics used in space, such as the Canadarm and is actively involved in major international space missions.

Yes, Canada does have astronauts. The first Canadian in space was Marc Garneau in 1984. Since then, another 13 Canadian astronauts have participated in space missions.

To become an astronaut in Canada, the first requirement is that you have to be a resident in Canada with a preference given to Canadian citizens. You also need to meet a range of requirements and conditions. You can find out more here.

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