Federal Election: Canada’s accomplishments in space (Part 1/3)

Canada has a rich history as a space-faring nation, but its accomplishments are not well-known. To help Canadians understand our history in space, SEDS-CAN has compiled the highlights of Canadian space exploration and development. We’ll release them in a 3-part series, called Canada’s accomplishments in space. Today’s section covers the years before the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) was founded.1

Canadian space in the pre-CSA years

    • 1839: Canada’s first astronomical institution, the Toronto Magnetic and Meteorological Observatory, is established by Sir Edward Sabine.


    • June 6, 1916: The Government of Canada establishes the Honorary Advisory Council on Scientific and Industrial Research. This would later become National Research Council of Canada (NRC).
    • August 28, 1921: John Herbert Chapman, a pioneer of the Canadian Space Program, is born in London, Ontario.
    • 1956-1958: The governments of both Canada and the US establish the Churchill Research Range north of Manitoba. This would be the beginning of suborbital sounding rocket research in Canada, which by 1989 greater than 3,500 launches would take place at this site.
    • October 4, 1957: The Soviet Union launches Sputnik 1, the first human-made object to orbit the Earth. The Space Age truly begins.
    • November 8, 1958: A Nike-Cajun sounding rocket is launched from Churchill, Manitoba. It carries Canada’s first scientific payload.
    • March 11, 1959: NASA approves Canada’s proposal, submitted by the DRB, to build a satellite to study the ionosphere. The satellite is called Alouette 1.
    • September 5, 1959: Black Brant 1, the first sounding rocket designed and built in Canada (by Bristol Aerospace), is launched from Churchill, Manitoba.
    • June 22, 1960: The first Canadian space hardware is launched into orbit: Canada contributed a cosmic noise receiver to the US navigation satellite Transit 2A.
    • 1961: Project HARP, for “High Altitude Research Project”, is established by the Canada’s Department of National Defense and the American Department of Defense. The project aims to study the ballistics of re-entry vehicles at a minimal cost, to find an alternative to rockets. Headed by Canadian Gerald Bull and American Charles Murphy, the project involved tests using a 16 inch battleship gun. Gerald Bull would later work for the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, to create a series of superguns in what was called “Project Babylon”, and would eventually be assassinated.

Canada becomes the third country, after the United States and the Soviet Union, to design and build its own satellite

    • September 29, 1962: The Canadian satellite, Alouette 1, is launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Canada becomes the third country, after the United States and the Soviet Union, to design and build its own satellite.


    • November 29, 1965: Alouette 2, the first satellite in the International Satellites for Ionosphere Studies (ISIS), is launched from Vandenberg.
    • February 1967: the leading manager of the Alouette program, John Herbert Chapman, submits a report called “The Chapman Report” to the federal government. It outlines his space plan for Canada. One of his recommendations is the creation of a national space agency.
    • January 30, 1969: ISIS 1, an advanced version of the Alouette satellites, it launched.
    • May 2, 1969: The Government of Canada creates Telesat Canada, to own and manage communications satellites.
    • November 9, 1972: Canada launches the world’s first domestic geostationary communications satellite, called Anik A1.
    • 1975: NASA awards Canada the contract to create the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (SRMS). This resulted in the creation of the Canadarm for the US Space Shuttle Program.
    • August 20, 1977: The Voyager 2 interplanetary probe launches. Canada was responsible for designing the boom for its telemetry instruments.
    • January 24, 1978: A Soviet nuclear-powered military satellite, Kosmos 954, crashes over Northwest Territories. Canada and the United States search for radioactive debris in a joint effort called Operation Morning Light.
    • October 23, 1981: The Globe and Mail use Anik A3 to relay digitized news from Toronto to Montreal.
    • November 13, 1981: The Canadarm is launched aboard Space Shuttle Columbia (STS-2).

    • November 12, 1982: Anik C3 is launched aboard Columbia. It is the world’s first direct broadcast satellite for commercial use.
    • December 5, 1983: Under the auspices of the NRC, Canada’s first astronauts are chosen: Roberta Bondar, Marc Garneau, Steve MacLean, Ken Money, Robert Thirsk, and Bjarni Tryggvason.
    • October 5-13, 1984: Marc Garneau becomes the first Canadian in space aboard Space Shuttle Challenger during STS-41-G.

1 In addition to the specific links provided in the bullet points above, this article drew heavily from the following sources (listed by topic or title): Canadian Space MilestonesCanada’s First Magnetic ObservatoryHistory of the Canadian Astronaut CorpsProject HARPA Brief History of the HARP ProjectGerald BullThe Canadian Space Agency is 25Space flight participantsExpedition 20Expedition 35Urthecast. Pictures are cited in mouseover text.

Alexander Wright, alexander.wright@seds.ca

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