Update from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA)

By Denis Laurin (Senior Program Scientist, Space Astronomy, Space Exploration Development, Canadian Space Agency)

My last contribution to Cassiopeia was pre-COVID-19. With practically all CSA employees in telework since then we continued, in virtual presence, to achieve our objectives, support the scientific community and industry with on going projects, missions and plan for future opportunities in space sciences. Below is a summary of recent developments relevant to space astronomy.

New Management

In September 2020 the CSA welcomed its new President, Ms Lisa Campbell, following the five year term of the previous president Mr. Laporte. Prior to this position Ms Campbell was Associate Deputy Minister, Veterans Affairs Canada, and prior to this she was Assistant Deputy Minister, Defence and Marine Procurement, leading the organization procuring Canada’s military and marine equipment. A short biography is available on the CSA webpage.

On-Going Missions


The launch of JWST is now planned for 31 Oct 2021. The CSA continues to make preparations for the operations and will support the scientific community expecting to obtain on average 5% of observation time throughout the mission. The Cycle 1 AO closed recently and results of applications are available (having a good response from Canadians). The CSA will provide grant support to the selected Canadian PIs, as well as the Early Release Science proposals. The MOU with NRC to support science operations, as well as support to Université de Montréal will be extended to launch and commissioning.


ISRO and the Astrosat team has recently celebrated 5 years of operations. Many Canadian astronomers have benefited and produced results using this unique multi-wavelength observatory. The NUV detector of UVIT continues to be unavailable, but the FUV and VIS channels are still performing well. Contact Joe Postma, University of Calgary, for details for UVIT data processing and analysis issues or for assistance in preparation of proposals. Canadian researchers that have obtained observing time during earlier cycles have been awarded grant support from the CSA (contact person for ASTROSAT grants program at CSA is Jean Dupuis). We encourage Astrosat grant recipients to inform CSA of their resulting or upcoming publications, as well as any related media releases.

The CSA Astrosat support is undergoing a mission extension review to evaluate merit of continued support of data reduction and science grants for 2 more year. The JCSA has recommended continuation of CSA support. A decision will be made in January.

NEOSSat Guest Observer Program

NEOSSat is Canada’s own space telescope: a 15 cm telescope with a high performance baffle it is able to observe at low sun angles. Launched in 2013 to discover near-Earth asteroids, the telescope has been available to researchers for photometry and asteroid follow ups. The CSA posted AOs for a guest observer program, cycle 1 in Sept 2019 and cycle 2 in July 2020, with Cycle 3 planned for early 2021. We appreciated the services of CanTAC for Cycle 2 proposal reviews. There is no grant funding associated with the AOs and the data is public (on CSA FTP and CADC). An announcement will be sent to CASCA members when the Cycle 3 is open. Information about the previous Cycle is available here including the list of approved guest observers.


The JAXA X-ray telescope XRISM, to be launched in 2022, is a follow-up of the Hitomi mission that ended prematurely in 2016. CSA contributed to support the tests of the Resolve instrument. With CSA grant support, Dr Luigi Gallo (SWG) at St-Mary’s University and Dr Brian McNamara (Resolve) at University of Waterloo are members of the teams. Once in operation, and possibly for the PV phase, members of Canada’s astronomy community will be able to compete for guest observer time.


The CSA has been supporting the operations of the Canadian nanosat (“BRITE-Toronto”) at the University of Toronto Space Flight Laboratory since launch in 2013. At the time of this writing, BRITE is undergoing a CSA mission extension review. The JCSA has recommended continuation of the CSA support. A decision will be made in January.

Investing in the Future

The Long Range Plan

The CSA is pleased to see the release of the completed LRP2020 document by CASCA. It represents a comprehensive set of priorities of the community following extensive cross-country consultations and reviews. We’d like to congratulate the LRP co-Chairs and the Panel for this tremendous effort. As in the past, the LRP is primary reference for the CSA in guiding investments in space astronomy.

Space Technology Development Program (STDP)

In the last Cassiopeia update, I provided a short description of the studies completed (2017-2019) that targeted future opportunities: CASTOR, LiteBIRD, Colibri and two exoplanet micro-mission concepts PEOP and EPPE. The studies identified technology roadmaps to advance the feasibility of these concepts. To that end the STDP selected priority technologies related to the payload of CASTOR and the two exoplanet concepts as part to the RFP currently open on the PSPC government tendering website.

Prior STDP contracts targeted payload elements for the SPICA and LiteBIRD missions. These contracts are on going until this summer. Note however that because ESA cancelled the SPICA opportunity under the Cosmic Vision Program (M5), the SPICA targeted technology will nevertheless continue as more generic technology advancements for cryogenic FTS instrumentation; this will allow maintaining industrial competitiveness for future opportunities.


Identified as the top priority in the LRP 2020 for a very large space astronomy mission, CASTOR investments continues in the short term with an important technology development planned over two years. This follows a comprehensive science study completed in 2019 that refined the science objectives and derived the requirements of the instruments. As part of the currently posted RFP up to $2.25M are available to CASTOR payload elements technology advancements.

A Phase 0 study should follow that will provide detailed baseline design of the mission including full cost estimation and a development plan. Such a large mission will require a special budget request from the government as it is outside the operational budget of the CSA. Continued and broadly expressed community support will be essential to realize these objectives.

The CSA is exploring the interests of potential partners, and in close collaboration with NRC HAA to define a plan forward. (See also John Hutchings’ contribution in this issue.)


JAXA selected LiteBIRD as their next Large-class mission and early developments are on-going with international partners. Canada was welcomed as potential contributor several years ago to provide the warm readout electronics for the large array of cryogenic bolometers needed for this CMB Pol mission. CSA has invested technology developments over several years, including a current STDP work with McGill University until Nov 2021 to advance this unique technology. These investments are aligned with the LRP priorities that marked LiteBIRD contribution the top priority for a large scale contribution in this decade. CSA is discussing progress with JAXA and other partners of the mission. A concern remains to be resolved following the withdrawal of the US contribution that would have provided the detectors.

Co-Investigator (Co-I) Grants – Supporting Canadian Researchers on International Missions

The Co-I program was described in the Sept 2019 Cassiopeia issue. CSA plans to make this a regular annual AO with the next issue to appear early 2021. The Jan 2019 Co-I AO is still viewable on the CSA website for background information.

FAST Grants AO

The FAST 2019 AO awarded a total of 36 grants. The CSA is planning to issue the next FAST opportunity in the summer of 2021. Note that the total budget and grant categories can vary from year to year.

The complete list of awards of the FAST 2019 grants is available here.

The following are the 2019 awards related to space astronomy:

In the $300K category:

  • Université Laval, Quebec City, Quebec, “HiCIBaS II – High-Constrast Imaging Balloon System – Adaptive Optics at High Altitude” (Dr. Simon Thibault)
  • University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, “Flights for Precision Calibration for Dark Energy, Microwave Astronomy, and Atmospheric Physics” (Dr. Justin Albert)
  • University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, “A superpressure balloon flight of the SuperBIT telescope” (Dr. Barth Netterfield)

In the $100K category:

  • University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba “High-throughput, high-resolution X-ray spectroscopy” (Dr. Samar Safi-Harb)
  • Western University, London, Ontario, “Selecting the extrasolar Earth analogues most amenable to atmospheric characterization” (Dr. Stanimir Metchev)


The JCSA Consultation Committee

The current membership comprises:

  • Locke Spencer, U. of Lethbridge (co-Chair)
  • Denis Laurin, CSA (co-Chair)
  • Jason Rowe, Bishop U.
  • Renée Hlozek, U. of Toronto
  • Chris Willott, NRC Herzberg
  • Daryl Haggard, McGill U.
  • Jeremy Heyl, UBC

The last “summer” meeting was virtual on 4 and 5 June 2020 normally held at the CASCA Meeting venue. The “winter” meeting was just concluded 10 and 11 Dec 2020. The CSA Committees are shown on the CSA webpage and will be updated soon with additional information as the Terms of Reference are currently being updated. Two members will be rotating off as they end their terms; researchers with space astronomy experience interested in the membership may express their interest to the JCSA members or the co-Chairs.

Wishing everyone a good winter and a much better spring!
Denis Laurin

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