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What is CANZUK?
Simply put, it is a closer alliance between the countries: Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
The idea here, is that these four nations share so many similarities that other nations cannot match, that their closer alliance would have few negative outcomes for their citizens and many positives.
This is usually and notably cited as economically, in negotiations with powers such as China and the United States, whilst military collaboration is already extremely high.
With economic and military co-operations at the heart of the issue, there is no surprise that there is scope for significant impact to the global space economy by interfering with the operations of these four intrepid, global leaders.
Why bother to amalgamate the Space Agencies?
The primary function of the space agencies is to create a policy environment which is most closely aligned to the needs of each nation. As discussed, these four countries are perhaps the most closely aligned in the World, which provides direction benefits over membership of a larger co-operation such as ESA. There are other difficulties associated with being a small part of a large organisation such as ESA too. The UK provides a large portion of the funding for ESA including for the human spaceflight programme, however, the competitive selection of astronauts spans 22 member states, and selects UK candidates infrequently. ESA has included a total of 30 astronauts over its history of which only one has been a UK citizen. 3.3% vs the 9.2% overall ESA budget contribution by the UK.
Benefits of increased autonomy beyond CANZUK may appear favourable, the Canadian Astronaut Corps has trained 14/14 Canadian astronauts after all. However, there is strength in co-operation. In order for Canada to invest so heavily in human spaceflight, they have had to save in other areas. Despite being leaders in robotic equipment for use in space, the nation has never built a robotic explorer for the Moon, Mars or any other celestial body, whilst the UK was able to fund that, before investing in human spaceflight through ESA.
Taking an option of CANZUK Space Agency membership does not preclude continued membership of ESA, or bilateral agreements with any other spacefaring nations, such as Japan. It simply presents a new tranche of opportunities for the four nations to consider, and with such closely aligned political and cultural views, it is highly likely that CANZUK could pursue missions that would never get the funding required through other major space contenders.
How will CANZUK Space Agency be funded?
The UK would contribute the most gross funding, and with proven ability to overspend on single projects of national importance, the contribution to the annual budget would be significant. The graph above shows annual budget in USD for each of the Space Agencies in CANZUK countries, whilst the dashed area above the UK represents the investment in OneWeb satellites.
This doesn't tell the whole story though. The Australian Government has chosen to play it very safe on space spending, and whilst they support industry to make significant moves into the Space market, the national agency itself wields only a very small $9.8m USD budget.
Even with this apparent underspend, a CANZUK Space Agency could expect to marshal the resources of just under $1bn USD without a UK top-up on major projects such as OneWeb.
If Australia could be encouraged to match the average % GDP spent by the other 3 nations on space (~0.016%), the budget would increase to almost $1.2bn USD. Whilst this may be small-fry in capitol spending compared with ESA ($4.5bn), NASA ($27.5bn) or Roscomos ($2.1bn), there are a number of major benefits that each nation could derive that are not currently available to all.
Expert in Space Policy, James Bennett who has advised the US and UK Governments on how to create policy for commercial space-flight, and has worked on numerous high profile projects towards the commercialisation of space in the USA, believes the four nations are well poised to join forces now, and share resources, benefiting from areas that individual nations currently excel in, and re-prioritising funding to cover any capability gaps, that he says could be identified in a simple matrix.
In truth the matrix above may be too simple. It should probably include propulsion systems, navigation, communications and more. But already it is possible to see general categories of capability that are over, or under-developed within CANZUK.
Context is also of course, key to the decision-making processes. Whilst the UK can tick the "Robotic Exploration" box with the mixed success of the Beagle-2 which landed successfully on Mars, Canada's MDA is a world leader with in-space robotics. Even so, perhaps only juggernaut contracting companies such as Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems are the realistic most likely hope for integrated systems for space exploration, because the space policy environment within CANZUK Nations is predominantly geared towards commercial space activity, rather than the more traditional national space activities enabled by USA's policy background through the space-race era.
CANZUK Space Agency the Space Power, or the Space Enabler?
James Bennett was instrumental in paving the way for commercial spaceflight in the United States before he became a government advisor to the UK Government in achieving that same milestone, which is going through parliamentary process now.
"Space would be a good topic for CANZUK early on. There are some good capabilities there." - James Bennett
The argument for a Space Agency led mission programme will always remain a powerful one in the scientific sphere, where there are less immediately obvious commercial benefits to be had. That being said, SpaceX fever proves that the market today is highly preferential to distant speculation when it comes to gaining a slice of the future Martian economy.
NASA's Commercial Launch, and Commercial Crew programmes prove that there is a great deal of value to be had by enabling companies, small and large, to participate in the space industry competitively, and to buy services rather than mission assets directly.
Most space agencies today, including NASA, persist in capitol asset creation. Whilst SpaceX, Blue Origin and ULA are all pumping out new and improved rocket designs capable of placing large payloads into orbit, NASA forge ahead with the unpopular SLS programme, which will probably come to market after, be less capable and more expensive than, their commercial competitors.
Whilst ESA isn't developing an in-house launch capability as too expensive an endeavour, the UK Space Agency with a budget approximately 20% of ESA's has subsidised at least 7 launch options which are currently in development by private companies:
Skyrora, Orbex, B2Space, Black Arrow Space Technologies, SmallSpark Space System, Reaction Engines, and Raptor Aerospace form the most famous of UK rocket launch companies, whilst other contenders are not out of the race: Starchaser Industries for example.
In some cases, Rocket Launch companies include an embedded Launch Site operator. Black Arrow Space Technologies is closely tied with Horizon Spaceport, who are developing their sea-launch capability around the Black Arrow design. The ship above using a SpaceX reminiscent witty naming convention: Space Ship.
Other UK Launch facilities are not tied to a single rocket variant, as Skyrora and Orbex are expected to share the same site, and American Prime contractor Lockheed Martin plan to fly ABL manufactured rockets from Shetland Space Centre.
All of this capability building is extremely positive, however Lockheed, Skyrora and Orbex are all targeting polar orbits from northern Scotland. Indeed, New Zealand, Australia and Canada also have sites which target these same orbits. However, the most common launch profile for a launch to space, be that for interplanetary, or orbital missions is one targeting an equatorial orbit. (Round and round the plant's equator, rather than over and over the planet's poles).
It's important to forecast what the space economy of the future is going to use space for, in order to see where the market will generate growth for launch companies.
Polar orbits are really useful for satellites that need to point at the Earth, and cover every square inch / centimetre of the surface. That could be for weather satellites, mapping, communications or super-secret spy activity. These four categories are vastly the most popular type of satellite launch at the moment, with great thanks to constellations such as Startlink, OneWeb, and Earth Observation companions such as Planet's group of Super Doves which are imaging the Earth at an ever increasing rate.
For the sake of clarity, a large number of communications satellites maintain a Geostationary orbit, which is a type of equatorial profile. Anyone with Sky television is benefiting from these, with a dish antenna on the house that only ever has to point at one spot in the sky. Indeed, many applications benefit from a "broadcast to many" solution.
However, the incidence of these GEO satellites vs constellations of LEO or MEO satellites is decreasing, and one of the reasons is how expensive they are. This expense drove a lot of value to move to sub-marine fibre cables, and LEO constellations are bringing that value back into the space economy. It is expected that SpaceX's Starlink will generate over $3bn dollars in revenue a year won back from fibre. Elon Musk predicts over $30bn.
EuroConsult published a report 'Satellites to be Built and Launched by 2028' which does a good job of covering the topic. Broadly though, it's clear that constellations close to the Earth are where the money will be found for commercial launch in the next few years, which sit predominantly in a polar orbit. That's good news for CANZUK launch sites and operators. But what does the next horizon look like?
Industry experts believe that all eyes will be on Mars for the next 10 years of Space Exploration, with some smaller missions to the outer planets of the solar system. Indeed, there's a lot of exciting stuff going on with regards to designing tiny submarines to sound the depths of Titan, vying for the chance to win some funding. Space exploration pretty much exclusively calls for launches to equatorial profiles (Cape Canaveral style) because it lends a helpful boost to the rocket through the Earth's rotation.
CANZUK is developing a lot of launch capability which covers the immediate future, and indeed most of these launch companies with sites that favour a polar orbit do advertise launches to a low inclination profile (closer to the equator) but the cost per kilogram goes up, because it's much less efficient.
Even the mighty USA / New Zealand company Rocket Lab, who famously announced the development of their Neutron rocket early in 2021 admit their payload to orbit reduces for an equatorial launch from 8,000kg a little.
(Image: Rocket Lab / YouTube)
Australia might be the best CANZUK, indeed the best global example of an enabling space agency, over an enterprising one. The Australian Space Agency operates from a tiny budget of just under $10m dollars per year.
But they get a lot of bang for their buck! Gilmour Space Technologies is a Queensland based start-up which has attracted a significant chunk of venture capital, and aims to launch rockets from Northern Australia. That's important for a couple of reasons: Equatorial orbits are efficient from here, and this is a southern hemisphere, vertically integrated launch company that is moving through rocket and satellite design, engineering and operations.
Australia also hosts two celebrated radio telescopes: the Parkes Observatory which has been used for inter-planetary communications above it's usual astronomy role, and the still-under-construction Square Kilometre Array telescope. This impressive future array telescope is being constructed in sites across South Africa and Australia, and it will be the largest and most powerful telescope of any kind, ever created by mankind, by an order of magnitude. You cannot over-estimate the importance of this facility to the future of human space exploration.
(Image: Square Kilometre Array 'SKA Organisation')
This isn't the only instance of shared access that would add real value to the experiment. The UK is a founding member of ESA, and just as one of the core selling points for the wider CANZUK alliance is the UK permanent member status as a founder of the UN Security Council, so too can it provide access to ESA missions and policy decisions.
We have already discussed the parallel Canadian and UK astronaut corps, and an amalgamation of the four nations could provide additional funding to an existing experienced training programme, which uses facilities across the globe at Johnson Space Centre, run by NASA, as well as facilities in Japan and Russia too.
What should be the mission focus of a CANZUK Space Agency
Quite literally the billion dollar question, opinions are divided. Many experts such as David Whitehouse, acclaimed author of Space 2069: After Apollo: Back to the Moon, to Mars, and Beyond firmly believe that all spacefaring nations should have their eyes firmly fixed on the Red Planet as the main target of exploration for the next 10 years.
It is perhaps, a given that NASA, ESA, Roscomos, CSA and JAXA will all be strongly focused in this direction. This could allow CANZUK to be a major player in funding missions outside of Mars exploration. Major space agencies are developing mission ideas for the outer solar-system. Exploring the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, are both popular mission ideas. But CANZUK is likely to be a more commercially friendly policy frame-work. It might be possible to see the CANZUK nations looking to lead the way on enabling commercial exploitation of space, rather than the pure scientific exploration of Mars or the Jovian moons.
CANZUK could focus mission attention on the further rapid commercialisation of Earth orbits beyond Low Earth Orbit. We could look at O'Neil Cylinders as a concept that is preferred by James Bennet, and others seeking to populate space with low communication latency and a 1g environment. It could focus on developing the technologies required to truly explore and commercialise the asteroid belt, or harness the power of the Sun for commercial gain.
The possibilities are endless, but the UK has shown an ability in the past to depart from the main paradigm of space policy, by de-funding human spaceflight for a number of years. It is not impossible for a further bold stroke to be proposed in the CANZUK sphere to raise the profile and associated economic benefits of membership of a joint space agency.
The space industry has always benefited from migration of talent between businesses and nations. Indeed the jewel in the crown of the early USA manned spaceflight programme Wernher Von Braun was a german engineer who relocated at the end of the second world war. So the freedom of movement key aim of CANZUK certainly works with the idea of a new and successful CANZUK Space Agency agenda too.
So does free trade, the second of three major policy points behind CANZUK International. The USA maintains very strong anti-proliferation rules which govern the way that space technologies can be shared outside of that country. Indeed, until 2020, not even their closest ally, the UK was allowed to import US space tech for commercial enterprises known as ITAR. Finally but at the forefront of the ideas behind a CANZUK Space Agency is foreign policy co-operation. Just as all of these countries participate in NATO operations and deployments, they could, and arguably should, find a large scale civilian organisation to inspire their students and to project their influence far and wide across the globe, in a peaceful and responsible way.
Founder and CEO of CANZUK International, James Skinner said: "These three objectives are essentially what define CANZUK and make it stand out in comparison to other diplomatic arrangements around the world".
There are plenty of challenges for CANZUK to overcome to make the Space Agency well balanced in capabilities, funding and mission objectives, but if they can be overcome, the opportunity here is one of the biggest for these nations in decades and could really help to place these four nations at the forefront of one of the World's fastest growing industries.
This article is an opinion piece written by Philip Day for Giant-Leap.Space. Please feel free to join the conversation in the comments! As a Patreon supporter you have gained exclusive access to this article.
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