The Montreal Space Symposium 2019 was held at the International Civil Aviation Organisation, 10 – 11 October, Montreal, Canada. The event was organized by the student aerospace associations across various Québec universities.

going beyonThe theme of the 2019 Montreal Space Symposium,  was “Going Beyond” to bring together expertise from all disciplines and think big and boldly when it comes to space and space exploration. The conference brought together speakers from the government, academia, UN, private sector, media, and the student community. Several hundred people attended the conference over the 2 days.

Artash at the Montreal Space Symposium 2019

In addition to the conference, there were exhibitors from universities, space companies, research institutes, student Rocketry clubs,  and those working on the CubeSat initiatives. The exhibition was a good representation of opportunities available to students to think big and “go beyond” when it comes to space.

Plenary Session

There were 3 plenary speakers: Sylvain Laporte, President of the Canadian Space Agency, Lieutenant-Colonel C.J. Marchetti, Director Space Strategy and Plans, Canadian Armed Forces, and Yuri Fattah from the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

Yuri Fattah, the opening plenary speaker drew our attention to the venue of the conference – the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) – a UN specialized agency. ICAO was a very appropriate place to remind us about the role space and global institutions play in our daily lives. From Global Position Satellites (GPS) to air travel, navigational aid is possible because of satellites orbiting in space. Look up!

Artash talking to Lt. Col Catherine Marchetti on accessing the database of space debris and using machine learning to assess collision risk

Lieutenant-Colonel Catherine Marchetti from the Canadian Armed Forces gave a very interesting talk on space-related activities taken up by the Department of National Defence. This was the first time we were hearing about space initiatives of the Canadian Armed Forces. Detect, deter and defend are the guiding principles for Canada whether it comes to territorial defense or safeguarding space infrastructure. She talked about how space is congested to the point where orbital debris poses a real and increasing hazard to day-to-day operations in space. This problem only stands to increase with the proliferation of micro and small satellites being launched. This means a greater emphasis on object tracking, machine learning for risk prediction, and technologies to deorbit space debris in order to reduce the collision threat for orbiting space systems. And the need for trained human resources who can work on space monitoring and defense is growing.

Artash talking to Sylvain Laporte, President of Canadian Space Agency about multigenerational investment in space exploration

Sylvain Laporte, President of the Canadian Space Agency made us all very proud of Canada’s accomplishment in the space sector this year. The focus has been on multigenerational space investment on space exploration, lunar gateway, and increase in science and outreach projects. The highlight of the year which captured the attention of all Canadians was the six months mission of Canadian astronaut  David Saint-Jacques to the International Space Station as Flight Engineer on Expeditions 57, 58 and 59. David fulfilled all his mission accomplished and inspired millions of Canadian youths.

student opportunities
Some of the Student Space Outreach Programmes run by the Canadian Space Agency

In addition, the Canadian Space Agency signed up an international partnership with NASA on the Lunar Gateway. Canada’s key contribution would be developing a smart robotic system, to be known as Canadarm 3 to carry out repair and maintenance of the outpost. 2019  also saw the launch of three RADARSAT Constellation Mission satellites for Earth observation aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

In addition, there were several space projects opened to students such as the Canadian CubeSat Project, SpaceApps and signing of Memorandum of Understanding with NASA with regards to the eligibility of Canadian students for International Internships at NASA.

Concurrent Sessions and Panel Discussions

After the plenary, there were several sessions and panels held concurrently in 2 halls. There were some very interesting topics such as “Global Perspective on Government Space Programmes” by Jan Clarence Dee, Space Consultant with EuroConsult. The presentation ranked space budgets of other countries: USA, China, Russia, France, and Japan in that order and their accomplishments. Canada in spite of its vision and competence in space came a lowly 16 in terms of its government budget behind countries such as Inda.

rocketry club
Student Rocketry Clubs were present at the Symposium

The session by Trevor Kjorlien Founder, Founder of Plateau Astro was on “Magic in Light Polluted Sky”. He talked about his telescope-in-the-street public outreach program where he bought telescopes to where people gather in the cities such as malls, and street sides.  Several celestial wonders such as the moon and planets can be seen from within the cities. We need to embrace urban light pollution so that people, especially the younger generation do not ignore the urban night sky entirely.

The session by Marc Boucher, Founder, SpaceQ Media Inc was on the role of media in changing the narrative on Space in Canada and how to engage the media so that they can be an ally in meeting space ambitions.

Presentation by Emilie Lafleche on Exocartographer for extracting the surface map of an exoplanet’s albedo.

Emilie Lafleche, Intern at the McGill Space Institute, iREx, McGill University session was on exoplanets (this is also one of our favorite subjects) and improving efficiency of the python computer algorithm called Exocartographer. It uses simulated time-resolved light curve data of an exoplanet and extracts the exoplanet’s orbital parameters and the albedo map of its surface from it. The work has implications for future telescopes, particularly direct imaging telescopes.

Space Governance

There were a couple of sessions on space governance, regulation and law including by Nivedita Raju, Student at McGill University, Eytan Tepper Doctoral candidate, McGill Institute of Air and Space Law, and Andrew Simon-Butler, Legal Researcher, Melbourne Social Equity Institute – University of Melbourne.

Checking out the Virtual Reality Display put up by the Institute for research on exoplanets (iREx) in Montreal

Nivedita talked about how an increase in rocket launches could cause irreversible environmental damage. Under the current Outer Space Treaty and the Liability Convention, there is no obligation on States to persuade their non-State actors to curb emissions or switch to cleaner rocket fuels that discharge less-polluting by-products. This needs to be changed.

Eytan talked about the stagnation in space governance when it comes to ongoing and upcoming issues. This means that as more countries become space-faring, important issues such as space debris, militarization, space traffic control and utilization of space resources are left insufficiently addressed. The result is an emergence of spontaneous, ad-hoc space governance.

Andrew focused on freedom of movement in the Space as a Human Right. In space, no human should ever be considered “illegal”. The eventual development of an open border regime could become one of the most unique and important governance features of outer space.

My Presentation: Using Machine Learning to Predict Risk Index of Asteroid Collision

Artash was invited to present his project relating to predicting the risk of an asteroid colliding with Earth (very small). He used supervised machine learning to train his algorithm on data taken from NASA/JPL’s Centre for Near-Earth Objects (CNEOS). He was then able to apply the trained model to the list of near-earth objects and model their risk of collision to the Palermo Scale.

presentation.jpgThe risk of collision is very low. Of the NEOs that are currently classified as potentially hazardous, 90 percent of them have a collision risk that is 10 to the third less likely than a random background event (collision risk of all the asteroids over a very long time range). But the risk is definitely non-zero. Several small new near-earth objects are discovered every day and some of them are discovered less than 24 hours before their close approach. For instance, Asteroid 2019 OK (57m-120m) passed about 73,000 kilometers from Earth or roughly one-fifth the distance to the moon on 25 July 2019 less than 24 hours after it was discovered.

While Asteroid Collision Risk modeling is a challenging task, equally challenging are the geopolitical concerns that will arise if we were to find an asteroid on a possible collision path in the future.  Do all countries have a right to deflect an asteroid even if they are not going to be hit directly, do countries have the right to use nuclear weapons in space to defend themselves, and which countries should be responsible for funding and directing the mission?

This project received an honorable mention at the 2019 NASA Planetary Defence Conference in Maryland.

Closing Remarks

The Montreal Space Symposium 2019 was a very well organized event and a big thanks go to the organizing team and the volunteers who worked tirelessly to make it happen. The event played a significant role in bringing together youths in Canada who are already in or are interested in the space sector. More such events are needed to unify and strengthen the space sector in Canada and to ensure that youths can find meaningful opportunities in the space sector.

We hope to be back next year!

Media Articles on the Montreal Space Symposium 2019

Toronto-Area Teen Models Asteroid Collision Risk.

Podcast: An Update on Launch Canada and the Canadian Satellite Design Challenge.

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