Space is having a moment right now.

In February, NASA’s robotic explorer made a historic landing on Mars. In April, Space X successfully launched its inaugural crewed mission to the International Space Station. And in 2023, a Canadian astronaut will join Artemis II, the first crewed mission to the moon since 1972. High above the pandemic turmoil playing out on Earth, space has once again become an engine for excitement, activity and human ambition.

It’s also big business. Space industry investments reached USD$25.6 billion in 2020, the third highest in the decade, according to a recent report. Morgan Stanley estimates that the global space industry could generate revenue of more than USD$1 trillion by 2040.

In the latest episode of Disruptors, co-host Trinh Theresa Do speaks with several leading voices from Canada’s space industry, to gain their insights on what lies ahead for our country’s space sector. The consensus? Canada is well positioned to lead into the next galaxy, so to speak. Here’s some of what we learned.

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Space isn’t a new frontier for Canada – our strong reputation precedes us

Over the past sixty years, Canada has punched above its weight in space, having made early decisions to focus on robotics and satellite/earth observation technologies. Through the development of the Canadarm and other innovations, it built and still enjoys a world-leading reputation in those fields.

“Canada chose strategically a few decades ago to become strong in radar-based earth observation, based on our challenges as a country and our desire to monitor all of our large, broad coastal areas with three maritime coasts,” said Mike Greenley, CEO of Brampton, Ont. based MDA, who’s iconic Canadarm graces the back of our five dollar bill. “I would say I’m a bit biased, but I think that was a wise decision. You can’t be part of everything but you need to pick your shots and then stand behind them.”

Lower launch costs are opening opportunities for new entrants

The decreased cost of launch has enabled a new generation of startups to enter the space economy. Where the cost to launch into space was once USD$18,000 a kilogram, it’s now down to $3,000 a kilogram—and could fall as low as $500, according to projections.

One company taking advantage of this shift is Silicon Valley startup Swarm Technologies, whose tiny communication satellites promise affordable global connectivity.

“The market, in terms of our customer base, has grown considerably over the last four years, so the pull on the demand side is actually growing and has grown since we started, which is awesome for us,” said Sara Spangelo, Swarm’s Winnipeg-born co-founder and CEO.

The future is bright with news of the Canadarm3

Today, our space sector employs 10,000 highly skilled workers and generated $2.3 billion for Canada’s economy in 2017. The advent of commercial space has brought with it new opportunities and a surge of entrepreneurs who are investing significant resources into exploring the unknown, said Manon Larocque, Executive Director, Strategic Policy and Domestic Affairs, at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

What began decades ago with the Canadarm design and operations on the international space station is now extending well into the future, with December’s announcement that MDA would develop a third-generation, AI-based Canadarm3, destined for “Gateway,” a NASA-led lunar-orbiting international space station.

“Space challenges us to think about our place in the universe, it pushes us to further explore, constantly innovate. Right now is a perfect time to be doing this with some global opportunities on the horizon,” said Larocque.

Unidentified [00:00:06] Hey, it’s Theresa,

Speaker 2 [00:00:13] did you tune in back in February when Perseverence hurdled through the thin Martian atmosphere to become the latest spacecraft to reach the red planet? It was really, really exciting to be able to watch the landing in real time and then two months later, to see NASA’s Mars Ingenuity helicopter make history as the first paragraph to fly on another planet. But this is only the latest in a string of big happenings beyond Earth’s surface — from Space X’s inaugural crewed mission to the International Space Station, the first human launch from American soil in nearly a decade, to news that a Canadian will join the U.S. and Artemis two in 2023. You could say things are really taking off with the launch of about one. In September of 1962, Canada became the third country to put an artificial satellite into space. And over the past six decades, Canada has developed a world leading reputation in robotics and satellite and earth observation technologies as we approach our seventieth anniversary in space. The question is, what will it take for Canada and Canadian companies to continue to be seen as leaders in space? This is Disruptors, an RBC podcast. I’m Trinh Theresa Do sitting in for John Stackhouse. In the first part of the show, we’ll talk to one of the pioneers of Canada’s robotic sector, a company that put this country on the extraterrestrial map. We’ll talk to the Canadian engineer behind an upstart satellite maker based in Silicon Valley who’s now making waves around and above the world. But first we ask an expert, what are the opportunities for Canada in space right now?

Speaker 1 [00:02:00] My name is Manon Larocque. I am the executive director of Strategic Policy and Domestic Affairs at the Canadian Space Agency, CSA. It is an exciting time right now to be in space. There has been a lot of changes in business models, namely with the advent of commercial space. So more and more space entrepreneurs that are looking at what can be done in outer space and are investing significant amount of resources to go and explore space, explore the unknown. In Canada, we have been active in the space world for many, many years and have certainly recognized how space provides a unique vantage point from which to observe Canada, significant land mass and coastal areas to connect Canadians as well. Space challenges us to think about our place in the universe, pushes us to further explore, constantly innovate and the right. Now is a perfect time to be doing this with some global opportunities on the horizon.

Speaker 2 [00:02:57] Canada’s history in space dates back decades, but there is a definite sense of momentum right now. And one of the companies that’s been there from the start is Brampton, Ontario based MDA. Just last December, it was tapped to develop a third generation A.I. based Canadarm three. It’s the most advanced robotics technology yet and destined for Gateway, a NASA led lunar orbiting International Space Station is an exciting new technology that promises to open up a whole new world of opportunities. To discuss that and more, I’m joined today by MDAs chief executive officer Mike Greenly. Mike, welcome to Disruptors.

Speaker 3 [00:03:33] Thank you for having me. It’s great to be here.

Speaker 2 [00:03:35] So, Mike, you’ve spent more than twenty five years in the defense and security sector before joining MDE in twenty eighteen. Why did Space appeal to you?

Speaker 3 [00:03:44] Actually, Space has always appealed to me. Back when I was a student in university, I was actually in a co-op program. I did work terms, defense research labs and the defense research labs where we’re doing analysis and research work with the the first six astronauts the candidate ever had. So very, very early in my career, I got to work in space and and study what it means to go to space and study space sickness and space orientation. And that kind of got in my blood right from the start. And then I spent a lot of time in defense and aerospace, like you said, and now I get to come back to space and have a great run here with NBA.

Speaker 2 [00:04:17] That’s perfect. You are so well positioned to tell the storied history of our sector. And MDA is considered a legacy company within the sector, responsible for a lot of the reputation, the esteem that Canada has built up over the years. Because if people know anything about Canada’s efforts in space, it is the Canada arm with the Canadian flag emblazoned on its side and appearing in countless photos and videos. How important has the Canadarm been to the development of our domestic space sector?

Speaker 3 [00:04:46] I think it’s been really important. Like you say, it’s become the iconic kind of sort of brand icon of Canada’s participation in space. Canada was the third country to go into space. People don’t know that we didn’t go into space by going to the moon. Everybody else was trying to get to the moon. But we started doing business in space, putting communication satellites up. That was then followed by Earth observation satellites. And we started to do economic activity and nation building capability in space because Canada is such a large and diverse nation, such a large piece of real estate. If you want to be able to observe the goings on around Canada and our borders, it’s easy to do that from space. If you want to bring communication or TV signals and everything to such a large country, then it’s easy to do that from space. In addition to the inspirational element that comes from participating in space exploration, going to the moon, having an international space station, having an astronaut corps, and then, like you say, that iconic Canadarm on that space station. It has become when you survey poll Canadians and I’ve I’ve sat behind two way mirrors and listened to focus groups about Canadians talking about space. Everybody knows the Canada arm. It’s on the back of our five dollar bill. It’s become a very important iconic element, but it represents that that full, broad range of participation in space that I just described.

Speaker 2 [00:06:01] I’d love to dig into the company a little bit more because MJ is more than just the Canadarm, along with robotics and space operations. You’re involved with geo intelligence and satellite systems. Can you share with our listeners how these business lines work together in support of the company’s mission?

Speaker 3 [00:06:17] We are an advanced technology provider across the space sector. That’s what MDA is where we’re based in Canada. We’re a Canadian based company, but we’re a global technology provider around the world, across the space sector and almost every element of space except launch. When you look at what happens in space, we have. At the first level, this space to earth economy and in the space to earth economy, we have communication and earth observation and earth observation. We put up satellites to observe the Earth and we sell and deliver images of the activities on Earth to customers around the world. Every day. A large body of work in the satellite systems business is building communication satellites that go into geosynchronous orbit to bring us our TV and broadcast signals, for example, and then new constellations in low earth orbit, which are going to start to bring us broadband Internet and the Internet of Things and 5G communications in observation around the Earth in robotics and space operations. It’s all about that space exploration. We put robotics on the space shuttle and flew one hundred missions. We put robotics Canadarm2 on the International Space Station like we’ve been talking about. We’ve operated that for 20 years. And now, as you said, we’ve been contracted for Canadarm, three artificial intelligence based robotics for Lunar Gateway, the new space station that’s going to orbit the moon. It’s my secret wish someday that NDA will be the community mobile communications provider to the activity on the lunar surface.

Speaker 2 [00:07:40] And perhaps that day is not too far off. I’d like to stay on the satellite systems for just a moment. It’s an increasingly competitive area with more and more being lost every day. How is Emdur continue to innovate over the past 50 plus years? What keeps your technology fresh?

Speaker 3 [00:07:56] MDA, the world’s largest independent merchant supplier of satellite technologies across the satellite industry. So as a result of that, we get to supply satellite technologies to a wide range of satellite companies, and that really keeps us fresh and current. So everything that’s happening in the satellite industry and digital intelligence satellites, in addition to low earth orbit satellites, we get the opportunity to bid satellite technologies into those programs. So we’re constantly advancing our antennas, our electronics, our payloads and our complete satellite production capabilities towards a wide range of customers in the satellite business around the world. Some of the biggest trends these days that we’re dealing with is that the digitization of satellite satellites transitioning from analog to digital so the satellites can now become a reconfigurable in orbit. You don’t just put it up to do one purpose and operate in one way.

Speaker 2 [00:08:51] I’d like to pivot slightly now to talk about some of the innovations that we’ve been seeing with regards to the space sector. And one is the entry of big tech into the sector. And recently, MDA and Microsoft announced a partnership to reimagine space missions using mixed reality. Can you describe for us what that is and why it’s important for future space missions?

Speaker 3 [00:09:11] I’m sure in that particular project we’re using definitely mixed reality to be able to not only participate in the design, obviously when you design something in space, you’re putting robotics on a space station that’s going to be orbited by the moon. Our current space station is is four hundred kilometers away. The new space station, Lunar Gateway will be four hundred thousand kilometers away. And so we have to design systems that are going to go up, get installed remotely and operate the first time and operate every time thereafter. So the ability to be able to design that and visualize it and experience the operations of it, mixed reality represents an excellent environment for that. In addition, we’ve been using that same environment for training, training of the astronauts so that they can have a wholesome, immersive experience in learning how their robotics operates and then be able to control and visualize the control of those robotics use and mixed realities. That’s what we’ve been doing lately, collaborating with with Microsoft in that area.

Speaker 2 [00:10:11] So that sounds to me like foundational technology to one day venture into deep space exploration. Is that correct?

Speaker 3 [00:10:19] No, actually, it can apply to that as you’re using those mixed reality environments to be able to do design and use training, then potentially you’re creating environments that have the opportunity for next generation control systems in terms of your ability to use those types of environments for operations in deep space. And there will be growing opportunity for operations in deep space. It’s not just like we talked about in the 1960s to go on space exploration, visit the moon and come home as we return to the moon in the next few years. We’re going to live there now and we’re going to start to have on orbit assembly, on orbit manufacturing in orbit between the Earth and moon. We’re going to have habitats on the moon where we live and and grow food in mind and create fuel and everything. The level of in space and deep space operations will be greatly expanding. And these are all fundamental technologies to be able to expand that.

Speaker 2 [00:11:11] Yes, that is fascinating and so exciting. In April, MDA had its IPO, which is the latest event in a long string of expansions and growth overall in what feels like this new space economy, which is slated to grow to a trillion dollars by 2040. As you know what’s changed over the past few years, that’s driving investment in the space sector.

Speaker 3 [00:11:31] Now, it’s one of the biggest things that’s changed. Over the last number of years has been a decrease in the cost of launch. So if we go back to the nineteen seventies and eighties and nineties, it was about eighteen thousand dollars a kilogram to be able to launch something into space. Right now, we’re down to about three thousand dollars a kilogram. And the folks in the launch business are trying to get that down to five hundred bucks. And so the cost of getting something into orbit is dramatically decreasing. And so I think that’s the biggest enabler of activity in space. With that, it now opens up literally a new economic frontier. Businesses can now, if they have an idea of a business that they can run in space, they can get into space and they can run that business because the cost of launch has decreased. So now we’ve seen venture capital into space based companies double every year for the last three years to go back to twenty eighteen. It was around three and a half billion a year that twenty nineteen it was five point seven billion a year and then twenty twenty was eight point nine billion a year. And so there’s hundreds of new space companies that are being created around the world now every year who can conceive of what can I do in next generation earth observation. What can I do a next generation communications? How can I secure communications in space? What manufacturing space so they can’t manufacture on Earth in a gravity based environment? What kind of chemical reactions could I cause or metals could I create? So people are consuming all of these ideas and if they can get financing for those ideas, they can get into space.

Speaker 2 [00:13:02] Stories about space have often been about a geopolitical race in the space race. It’s a competition. The first man to the moon. But the International Space Station and we’re Canadarm two currently lives is a project of cooperation, including between some terrestrial adversaries like the US and Russia. Can you share a little bit more about why cooperation and collaboration are so important in the space business?

Speaker 3 [00:13:26] I think it’s important because space is hard. So I hope hopefully I’m not making it sound easy and that it’s getting more affordable to get into space. It’s still a very hard, complicated engineering challenge to create technologies that can go into orbit, that can work the first time and work every time and can last in that very harsh environment. So the benefits of having experience in space are still extremely important. So collaboration is necessary because it is difficult. And I think that because of that challenge, SpaceX has developed a culture where it is naturally collaborative, it has transcended and continues to transcend terrestrial geopolitical conflict. And people do work together. We are seeing a new space race of sorts in terms of all the activity going to the moon over the next few years. We see the United States through the Artemis program kind of repeating a type of International Space Station type of a thinking, working with multiple countries to be able to set up capacity on the lunar surface. It includes Gateway, that new space station we talked about, the Canadarm three will be on. It will also include the habitats and vehicles and communication networks and medical capabilities to take care of people living on the moon. Everyone needs to work together for that because we’re trying to do large, complex things in a short period of time. China and Russia have recently signed a collaboration agreement. They’re going to work together as two countries to put a lunar base on the moon.

Speaker 2 [00:14:49] Canada is a relatively small player in the space sector, especially compared to big players like the US and Russia, France, China or Japan. So what has allowed this country to stand out, get noticed and get contracts?

Speaker 3 [00:15:04] We’ve been strategic in picking areas where we’ve been strong. So Canada has been historically a strong country in the area of communications and became strong in space based communications. Canada chose strategically a few decades ago to become strong and radar based Earth observation was based on our challenges as a country and our desire to monitor all of our large, broad coastal areas with three maritime coasts. It makes sense to do that with radar based satellites from space. So we strategically chose to go there and stay in a world leadership position in space exploration. Canada chose robotics as an area that was wisely chose. I would say I’m a bit biased, but I think that was a wise decision. You can’t be part of everything, but you need to pick your shots and then stand behind them.

Speaker 2 [00:15:49] As we mentioned earlier, MDA has a contract to develop and construct Canadarm three, which is a part of our contribution to the Lunar Gateway program. And two years from now, a Canadian astronaut is going to be part of the first manned moon mission and more than 50 years. What is the opportunity for Canada in space in the next decade? How far can we go?

Speaker 3 [00:16:09] We can we can go as far as we want. But so certainly, like you say, we’re putting Canadarm on Gateway. That’s caused a couple of astronaut missions, one in a couple of years to go around the moon. Like you said, there’ll be further missions out to Gateway in the future. There will be the opportunity for Canada to participate in the colonization of the moon. Canada will have the opportunity to pick areas where we contribute to technologies on the lunar surface. I would expect that the. Those contributions would start to cause women and men from the astronaut corps in Canada to start to go down to the lunar surface and live and work there as we go through the next decade. The same pattern will repeat itself as we look out towards Mars to be able to participate in those missions in the 20 30. So Canada continues to on the space exploration side. Canada continues to have a strong opportunity there if you look at that space to earth economy. I think that Canada could have a great opportunity to significantly contribute to space based communications, to be able to bring broadband Internet to people no matter where you live. It’s the ultimate equalizer. There’s a lot of room for growth still to come before Canada.

Speaker 2 [00:17:11] Seems like the final frontier is just a jumping off point. Mike, thank you so much for this conversation. Thanks for the time. My guest today has been the CEO of MDA, Mike, recently, but don’t go anywhere. Coming up, we’ll look at that space to earth economy that Mike just talked about and examine the role of satellites in building a world of affordable and accessible high speed communications. You’re listening to Disruptors and RBC podcast. I’m Teresa Doyle, filling in for John Stackhouse. If you’ve been tuning into Disruptors lately, you’ve probably heard our two part special series on creativity, which featured the CEO of Cirque du Soleil, Daniel Lamarre and Gil Moore from the rock band Triumph, among other stellar guests. But we also want to draw your attention to the companion research led by the RBC Economics and Thought Leadership team that looks at creativity as an emerging power, skill and labor markets and how we can leverage it. You can find the link in the show notes of this episode and be sure to like and follow disruptors wherever you get your podcasts.

Welcome back. Today, we’re talking about space and Canada’s important slice of this ever expanding universe. While legacy companies such as MDE continue to innovate in some of the entrepreneurial space ventures, especially in satellites that are increasingly getting noticed, big players like Elon Musk’s SpaceX or Jeff Bezos Blue Origin get most of the headlines. But there are a bunch of fast growing players in the satellite industry that are also making waves. One of them, Swarm Technologies, a Silicon Valley based company co-founded by a Canadian with 30 employees on Earth and over 90 satellites in space and swarms lofty mission to bring high speed Internet to underserved countries and markets around the world. A revolutionary development that truly would be one giant leap for humankind. And joining me now is Swarms co-founder and chief executive officer, Dr Sara Spangelo. Welcome to Disruptors.

Speaker 4 [00:19:18] Thanks for having me.

Speaker 2 [00:19:20] Tell us a bit about swarm’s technology, the world’s tiniest two way communication satellites. What are they being used for and how do they stay out of harm’s way up there?

Speaker 4 [00:19:29] The concept of small satellites is not new. Satellites have been shrinking over the past many years. Maybe in the 80s and 90s, satellites that were about a thousand kilograms were launched to do connectivity missions, imaging, et cetera. And we’ve seen those satellites generally shrink for a variety of reasons. So obviously electronics have been miniaturized. Turns out your cell phone is smarter than most satellites in space today. And then access to space has also become more available, particularly for these smaller payloads. So in the early 2000s, the concept of a CubeSat, which is about the size of a loaf of bread or a shoebox, about ten by ten by thirty four centimeters, started to become pretty popular. And a lot of people were building science and exploration missions that were this small when that was seen as very revolutionary. At that time, rockets started to make space for these small payloads so they could go up as secondaries or piggyback on those rockets and then actually got to work on some of those CubeSat missions while I was in grad school and about five years later realized that we could do something really novel if we could make the satellites even another 10x smaller in size. You’re right. We developed the world’s smallest two way communication satellites. They’re about the size of a grilled cheese sandwich. So if you took that loaf of bread and you slice it into 12 pieces of bread or 12 grilled cheese sandwiches, you got a swarm satellite

Speaker 2 [00:21:00] for companies that are outside of the space sector. What do you think they should understand about the utility of satellites?

Speaker 4 [00:21:06] First of all, satellites are extremely powerful. I think a lot of us forget that the GPS that we use every day, all the time is using a satellite. And then what we’re bringing to market is this lower cost connectivity piece. So right now, I think businesses tend to think, oh, I’m within cellular range. I can connect my device back to the Internet, I can bring back data through a cell phone tower. And if I’m out of cellular range, I’m just out of luck. There’s no way I can connect. Like when I go for a hike and I’m out of cell, I assume I cannot not send a message back home that I’m in trouble. And that could be an agriculture sensor truck, a ship, railway, whatever. And what’s changing with swarm and the whole industry is that we are allowing people to connect regardless of where they are on the entire planet. So now you should think that connectivity is available anywhere that you are at all times. And at a price point that is for the first time affordable on the order of four US five dollars per device per month, which is less than a Netflix subscription.

Speaker 2 [00:22:09] How has the space sector changed and how is the opportunity grown for startups like you? I know you mentioned you’re in the Bay Area. I’m sure that also lends itself to a lot of collaboration and support just in the region.

Speaker 4 [00:22:21] The last four years, I think from a just from a launch perspective, there have certainly been an increase in access to space. So there are more players. Now, Rocket Lab has really come into its own. Companies like Astra and Relativity and Virgin are on the brink of offering services, which will help us as well. Prices have lower due to space x’s innovations, and they’re kind of launch program. And then there’s been startups that have continued to act as third party integrators for more difficult launch opportunities like Sølve, which is in India, Viega, which is through the French government. There’s a lot more opportunity and access to space that is more accessible to startups. The price has come down a little bit, not as much as I would have liked to have liked it to. And then I also think that the market, in terms of our customer base has grown considerably over the last four years. So the interest in connecting assets and devices. Doing kind of Iot Internet of things, which is really just a fancy word for M to M machine to machine, which was termed in the 80s, which is just tracking assets around the world. It’s a it’s actually very simple concept. I think there’s more interest in that because operators of logistics systems, supply chains want to know where their assets are and want to do a better job of kind of improving operations, reducing environmental impact, reducing CO2 emissions. And then there’s a lot of interest in environmental monitoring, fire monitoring, covid vaccine monitoring to make sure they stay at the right temperature. So I think the pull on the demand side is actually growing and has grown since we started, which is awesome for us.

Speaker 2 [00:24:06] Sounds like you’re perfectly in the zeitgeist.

Speaker 4 [00:24:09] We’re lucky. We’re really, really lucky.

Speaker 2 [00:24:13] If I can if I can take a step back in time. A lot of kids say they want to be astronauts when they’re young, but you actually followed through. What inspired you to pursue that career? Starting from a very early age in Winnipeg?

Speaker 4 [00:24:26] My failed astronaut candidate, I did get an opportunity to apply, but didn’t make it all the way. Obviously know I was interested in space and astronomy and exploration and aviation when I was little. My dad was really into aerospace and had started his pilot’s license. So I think he was always inspiring us to look up and be curious about how planes and space worked and then just love looking out at the stars. And just like, where did we come from? Why are we here? Where are we going? Or these existential

Speaker 2 [00:24:56] questions?

Speaker 4 [00:24:57] Yeah, yeah. That kind of makes you want to explore. And then I think a key, pivotal moment for me was the opportunity to go to space camp when I was in grade eight in Quebec and got to just do all of the fun space camp. Things are simulated ISIS missions with EVAs and pretend we were astronauts, pretend we were Chris Hadfield. Go in the machine that spins around to see if you’ll get sick, which I think is just for kids, because they didn’t actually do that in the training. And that really just motivated me to pursue certain academic things, studying mechanical engineering and aerospace engineering and doing my pilot’s license and my scuba diving and trying to be in really good shape and, you know, checking all those kind of astronaut boxes. Then there was an opportunity to apply in 2017. And I was 30 and I was like, I’m not I don’t know, I’m not going to be an astronaut. But I was like, Sara, it’s your childhood dream. You have to apply. So I applied. And that was a pretty cool experience to participate in that as well.

Speaker 2 [00:25:55] So you did graduate studies in the states and we worked, I think, both at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and Google X. A lot of Canadians similarly in the industry end up south of the border to seek out these opportunities. In your view, what can or should Canada do to actually foster a bigger domestic space center? And what would it have taken for you to have stayed in Canada?

Speaker 4 [00:26:16] I think for me, I wanted to have the opportunity to definitely study space. And that was more prominent at the University of Michigan, particularly with some of the coursework, and then eventually have an opportunity to go on to work at NASA. And that was kind of a personal goal, I think that continuing to invest in the educational opportunities, for example, having more aerospace specific programs, I think there was like an option when I went to the University of Manitoba, whereas Michigan has an entire aerospace department. So it’s quite a bit different scale and then continuing to grow out the professional opportunities as well, whether that’s more startups that are doing space work. And I know there are some fantastic startups like Kepler. I think it’s in Toronto that is doing connectivity with Los Altos as well. And there are many other startups pursuing the space and then having maybe bigger companies pursue opportunities to do aerospace work as well. Could be good career opportunities for individuals.

Speaker 2 [00:27:20] I’d like to turn to the question of innovation next and building on the dynamic of the partnership between commercial players and government players. There’s a lot of innovation that comes from the private sector. And you’ve mentioned you could move faster. There’s a lot more things happening in organizations like the CSA or NASA rely on these corporate partners to do what they do. But in your view, what limits, if any, do you see on the commercialization of space? And what’s that dividing line between private enterprise and the public interest?

Speaker 4 [00:27:51] Yeah, well, that’s a great question. I, I don’t really see any limits in the long term in terms of what the private sector can do. I mean, look at SpaceX. They’re doing what NASA has only been able to do for decades. So I think there are no limits. I do think that some of the regulation around the private sector can be stifling and slow the commercial sector down. And I think that the government has moved at a certain speed and the regulation has been acceptable for that speed. But the regulation is not necessarily acceptable for the speed at which small companies like Swarm or others can move. So I think a combination needs to be made for, oh, wow, these guys got funding one year and they’re going to launch nine months later. I actually think that naturally these private and public interests are very aligned because the private sector is generally providing services for the public, whether that’s connectivity or GPS or imaging. And I think that that alignment will eventually snap everything into place where, for example, the price of connectivity needs to come down because the public is only going to spend five dollars a month or one hundred dollars a month, depending on the type of service. I think as long as the companies are founded with a good intention, whether it’s, you know, communications or safety or reducing fires or whatever, I think that it is serving the public good.

Speaker 2 [00:29:21] I’d love to stay on this access to space angle a little bit because it’s still pretty expensive to put people up there think Virgin Galactic sells tickets for two hundred fifty thousand dollars each. It’s funny, my partner the other day told me that before he turns 40, he wants to go to space. And I’m like, well, at those prices, that means we can’t afford a house. But OK, do you think that space travel will be commonplace for non billionaires in five, 10, 15 years?

Speaker 4 [00:29:48] I don’t know. I think it’s it’s maybe it will be one of these, like throw things like people that like to jump out of planes or go skiing or these really like dangerous, expensive kind of. Why would you do that? Most people are thinking, I think it’s going to be in that category and it’ll be accessible for the wealthy and the pretty wealthy. I’m sure the price point will come down. Maybe it will become 50 K, which still seems like kind of insane to me. You know, a good good chunk of an annual salary. I think, you know, if you survey your friends and family, I’d say probably 80 percent of them don’t want to go. So I don’t think it’s going to be like a super tourism going to Europe type of thing that everybody wants to do in the summer. But I think it will be there for those that want it. I certainly wouldn’t go in the first hundred rides. I like to see the reliability statistics.

Speaker 2 [00:30:42] Yeah, let the other people test it out first.

Speaker 4 [00:30:44] Yeah. Yeah. I’m not know. I got a lot to do on Earth.

Speaker 2 [00:30:47] I have one final question I’d like to tap into your hopefully optimistic side a little bit. What is the one thing that you’d like Canadians to take away from this conversation and from your own experience and wisdom about what the possibilities for Canada are in space?

Speaker 4 [00:31:06] You know, I never thought that I would be able to go away for school and then I would be able to work at NASA and I would be able to work at Google and I would start a company and I would grow a team and put up satellites like this. Is this crazy life now compared to where I started and I think of all Canadians felt like, hey, I could build something, I could have an impact in this world, whether it’s in space or whatever they’re passionate about. There’s no barriers for me. And whatever my dream is of starting a company or starting a program or inspiring others, I can do that. I think that it would be incredible to see what all of those Canadians would accomplish. And I also think Canada is an amazing springboard. Like I have no student debt. That’s amazing. I have an amazing education. I had an amazing childhood. And I have amazing friends and family that are super supportive. So just be grateful that you’re from Canada. It’s a really, really special place and amazing educational and other opportunities. And, you know, don’t let anything get in your way. You never know what you can accomplish.

Speaker 2 [00:32:17] Be grateful and don’t let anybody get in your way. I love that. Sara, that is such an inspiring note to end on. Thank you so much for this conversation.

Speaker 4 [00:32:26] You’re welcome. This is really fun. Thank you.

Speaker 2 [00:32:28] My guest today has been the co-founder and CEO of Swarm Technologies, Dr Sara Spangelo. I’d also like to thank Mike Greenley MDA and Manon Larocque from the Canadian Space Agency. I’m trying to raise dough and this is Disruptors and RBC Podcast. Join us next time when we’ll talk to some of the leaders in Canada’s exploding telemedicine sector about why they think the future of health care services will be online. Talk to you soon.

Speaker 4 [00:32:59] Disruptors an RBC

Speaker 5 [00:33:00] podcast is created by the RBC Thought Leadership Group and does not constitute a recommendation for any organization, product or service, it’s produced and recorded by Jar Audio for more disruptors, content like or subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and visit RBC Dotcom Slash Disruptors.


Jennifer Marron produces "Disruptors, an RBC podcast". Prior to joining RBC, Jennifer spent five years as Community Manager at MaRS Discovery District and cultivated a large network of industry leaders, entrepreneurs and partners to support the Canadian startup ecosystem. Her writing has appeared in The National Post, Financial Post, Techvibes, IT Business, CWTA Magazine and Procter & Gamble’s magazine, Rouge. Follow her on Twitter @J_Marron.

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