RCAF leads Canadian Armed Forces space initiatives

RCAF leads CAF space initiatives
Sapphire (foreground), Canada’s first military satellite, is designed to track, identify and catalogue objects in space, including satellites and debris, within a range of 5,500 to 55,000 kilometres from Earth, and to then beam these observations to the US Space Surveillance Network. Photo: Submitted

Sarah Pacey

Space is an important and growing element of the global security environment, and space-based capabilities are crucial to the day-to-day activities of all Canadians.

The Canadian Armed Forces’ (CAF) space-related activities are an essential component of the defence of Canada and North America, and provide support to operations worldwide. The CAF employs space-based capabilities for a range of activities including all-domain awareness, weather information, surveillance, intelligence gathering and reconnaissance, search and rescue, navigation, and global communications.

The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) has been involved in space since the 1960s. In 2013, a giant leap into the future was taken with the launch of Canada’s first military satellite, Sapphire. Members of the RCAF’s 21 Aerospace Control and Warning Squadron, based at 22 Wing North Bay, Ontario, began staffing the Sensor System Operations Centre, tracking, identifying and cataloguing objects in space, including satellites and debris, within a range of 5,500 to 55,000 kilometres from Earth. Sapphire and the controllers operating it, has contributed millions of observations to the US Space Surveillance Network.

In 2016, the RCAF took over functional authority for Joint Space within the CAF, and this new domain leadership responsibility has marked the beginning of an exciting new chapter for space in the CAF.

The RCAF is proud to count among its number two members who are current astronauts: Colonel Jeremy Hansen and Lieutenant-Colonel Joshua Kutryk, both seconded to the Canadian Space Agency. Colonel (retired) Chris Hadfield, the first Canadian astronaut to walk in space and the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station, is a former RCAF member.

As a joint capability, space involves CAF members in the Navy, Army and Air Force, and their civilian Defence Team counterparts, all working together with other government department members to deliver capabilities that provide strategic advantage and responsiveness when integrated with sea-, land- or air-based systems.

Integrated through the Canadian Space Operations Centre (CANSpOC) in Ottawa, Ontario, with support from the Sensor System Operations Centre and collaboration with allies (including via NORAD agreements), the CAF monitors satellite movements in space, and missile and space launches. From its 24/7 watch centre, the CANSpOC monitors space debris and inactive satellites, and supports CAF members deployed on operations with information such as GPS accuracy, or when global communications satellites may be limited in certain regions due to space weather.

Working with allies is also a core component of the defence joint space program. Space capabilities are subject to the characteristics of the rapidly evolving space domain which is increasingly congested, contested and competitive. By working closely with allies, the CAF is not only seeking ways to reduce duplication and leverage partner capabilities, but is also working to enhance the resiliency and redundancy of these capabilities to ensure that the we will have continued and uninterrupted access to critical space enablers for operations at home and abroad.
Canada’s defence policy commits increased and predictable funding to the defence space enterprise over the next 20 years to deliver important new capabilities for the CAF for earth observation, space situational awareness, and satellite communications. The policy promotes space-related research and development, and partnerships with academia and industry, to advance national innovation and our mission.

Sarah Pacey is the deputy director space strategy and plans with Director General Space.