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Auditor General Report: Canada's Space Program is at a Financial Crossroads

Sheila Fraser, Auditor General of Canada, presented her report to the House of Commons this week in which she called in to question the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) ability to implement its programs due to funding problems.

These problems at CSA are not necessarily of its own making. Indeed, many of them predate the formation of the CSA.

According to the Auditor General, the situation will likely get worse in the next five years.

According to the report, “The Canadian Space Agency needs to develop a new strategic plan that can help it balance the activities required of it under the Canadian Space Program and its annual funding level. Currently, it is unable to meet the expectations for the Space Program fully because of financial obligations that the government incurred in the past and that extend into the future; to some extent the Agency’s own process of setting priorities is also responsible. The current imbalance between activities required under the Canadian Space Program and the Agency’s financial capacity is likely to worsen in the next five years.”

CSA’s funding problems are not new. The International Space Station (ISS) has gone over its planned budget by at least US$5 billion. As a direct result, these fiscal problems have pushed back participation of Canadian astronauts in manning the station and conducting research.
There are other unexpected costs to CSA as well. When NASA withdrew from its launch arrangement for RADARSAT-2 a 2 year delay of the mission resulted with additional costs of $167 million.

The money to make up for these budget issues has to come from somewhere.

As part of her conclusion, the Auditor General says “The direct impact of the Agency’s current budget shortfalls is that space science and technology activities proposed for the Canadian Space Program must be cancelled or deferred to keep the Agency operating within its budget.”

While the Auditor General says the CSA should stay within its budget, which for 2002-2003 is set at $300 million, you have to wonder if the government is committed to sustaining the research and technology benefits that the CSA provides.

There is also an issue of proportion and scope with regard to Canada’s commitment to space.

NASA’s budget is set at just over US$15 billion for the next fiscal year. The CSA’s budget is not even 3% of NASA’s. If you were use the relationship between America’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and its space budget as a guide, based on the size of Canada’s GDP to that of the U.S. you might set the CSA budget much higher – at around US$2 billion.

While no one expects the government to increase the CSA budget to such a level, a modest increase to keep Canada at least completive is most likely overdue. Without a budget increase Canada’s space program may not be able to remain competitive in the future. This could adversely affect our science and technology sectors at a time when efforts are being made to bolster them.

About Marc Boucher

Marc Boucher
Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceRef Canada Interactive Inc, CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef U.S., advisor and co-founder of the Canadian Space Commerce Association, and director and co-founder of MaxQ Accelerator Inc. Previously he was the founder of Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine which he sold.

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