The Canadian government released its budget today. Contrary to the expectation of some, this budget did not include any new money for the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) plans for Mars.
Nearly two years ago, at the 3rd Canadian Space Exploration Workshop, CSA president Marc Garneau announced his vision for the CSA’s next bold adventure: Mars. At that time he said, “We have the expertise, it’s highly visible, and there is momentum.”
Without new money for Mars, the CSA will be hard pressed to live up to its commitment to NASA as a participant in the 2009 Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission. In order to be part of the mission, Canada is supposed to contribute $100 million.
Canada seemed to be on a path towards increased space – and with that, increased space spending. It was just last September that Allan Rock, Minister of Industry, was on hand as the CSA signed a contract with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. to help define Canada’s technology commitment to future Mars missions.
MSL participation is supposed to set the stage for Canada’s interest to eventually take the lead in sending its own mission to Mars – perhaps as soon as 2011. Plans for that mission were discussed within the Canadian space community late last year at the 4th Canadian Space Exploration Workshop.
The CSA is trying to position itself as a leader in certain technology areas for future missions – areas where Canada has specific world-class expertise. Such expertise includes robotic mining technology and laser-based sensor technology which could be used to land spacecraft on the surface of Mars.
The budget news was not all negative. Other space related activities, not under the CSA umbrella, did see some new money. The budget contains funds to secure Canada’s participation in two astronomy projects: the Extended Very Large Array project in New Mexico and the Atacama Large Millimetre Array project in Chile.
However, with regard to Mars, given the current budget news, CSA’s future plans for Mars will clearly need to be re-evaluated.