Space policy and the Remote Sensing Space Systems Act (RSSSA)

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Space Policy

All countries are becoming increasingly dependent on space. There are more than 2,600 operational satellites in space playing an ever-growing role in human activities and development, in areas such as weather forecasting, transportation navigation, communication, banking, urban planning, and disaster relief, to name a few. The security of humanity’s space-based assets is therefore vital to the smooth operation of our daily lives on earth. Canada works in close partnership with the US and other space-faring nations to ensure the safe, secure and sustainable use of space. As such, Canada supports international initiatives suggesting a step-by-step approach to address space security.

The most important global treaties to ensure the safe, sustainable use of outer space include:

The international community is building on these existing treaties to strengthen confidence and transparency among space-faring countries to promote the peaceful and sustainable use of outer space. One of the most important forums for doing so is the United Nations’ Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS). COPUOS was created in 1959 to promote international cooperation in the outer space. Recently, the UN General Assembly asked a Group of Governmental Experts to examine ways to promote transparency and confidence building measure. They group presented its report in 2013 setting out proposals for actions by countries to promote confidence and transparency among those who use space. The European Union is leading efforts to promote an International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities. Such a Code of Conduct would set out voluntary global norms for responsible behaviour by space-faring countries. Talks to draft such and International Code began in 2012 and are scheduled to be completed in 2015. Finally, the issue of the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) is a subject of discussion at the UN’s Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Under this agenda item, the Russian Federation and China have proposed a “Treaty on the Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space and of the Threat or Use of Force against Outer Space Objects (PPWT)”. The Russian Federation and China presented a draft PPWT treaty in 2008 and in 2014.

In Canada, in addition to these international instruments, space security includes ensuring that remote sensing of earth using satellites is regulated, to ensure that observation of earth from space is conducted in peaceful ways consistent with Canada’s security interests. In 2006, Parliament passed the Remote Sensing Space Systems Act to regulate remote sensing space systems by Canadians, including satellites and their ground segments.

Remote Sensing Space Systems Act (RSSSA)

Canadians are actively participating in the supply of high performance remote sensing data, products and services for domestic and foreign clients. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, responsible for the Remote Sensing Space Systems Act and its Regulations, oversees the activities of any remote sensing space system operating from Canada or by Canadians  worldwide.

To regulate the operation of these remote sensing space systems, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) through licensing ensures that remote sensing activities are not injurious to national security, to the defense of Canada, to the safety of Canadian Forces or to Canada’s conduct of international relations nor are they inconsistent with Canada’s international obligations. As part of the licensing process, GAC consults with the Departments of National Defence, Public Safety, Industry Canada, and the Canadian Space Agency.

Applying for a licence

We provide licensing information and advice to our clients seeking to obtain a licence to operate remote sensing space systems in any manner, directly or indirectly, in Canada or by Canadians elsewhere in the world.

If you are considering applying for a license under the Remote Sensing Space Systems Act please consult Schedule 1 of the Remote Sensing Regulations for more information.

After consultation with industry, academia, and other governmental departments, GAC is in the process of creating RSSSA Operating Licence Application Guide to assist with the licence application process.

RSSSA Review

The Act requires an independent review of the RSSSA every five years. On April 5, 2017, the Minister of Foreign Affairs tabled in Parliament the second independent report of the RSSSA.

To obtain a copy of the first or second independent report of the RSSSA, please email RSSSA-LSTS@international.gc.ca.

RSSSA Ad-Hoc Review Advisory Committee

An Ad-Hoc Review Advisory Committee was formed in the summer of 2019. In November 2019, GAC co-hosted with McGill University’s Law Department the first of a series of meetings. This committee provides external expert information, advice, and recommendations on the RSSSA, its regulations and the implementation of them. Meetings were held under Chatham House Rules. The committee is comprised of fifteen (15) representatives from Canadian industry, academia, other government departments, and other international governments.

To obtain a copy of our meetings notes, please email RSSSA-LSTS@international.gc.ca.

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