The future of Canada’s current big space project, the RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) and the Canadian Space Agency budget cut were the subject of questions in yesterday’s House of Commons Question Period. The questions were brought forward by Liberal MP Marc Garneau. Garneau is a former astronaut and Canadian Space Agency (CSA) President and knows a thing or two about space.
RCM’s future is in question as no authorized funding has been released for the next phase of the project, the build phase. Currently MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA), the RCM contractor, is just finishing up the design phase.
Following the completion of the design phase it was expected that the build phase would go ahead in September. However, the recently released budget made no mention of RCM and available documents by the CSA do not specify a dollar amount to be spent in the 2012-2013 budget.
In the 2010 Budget the CSA was granted a sum of $397 million over five years (2010-2011 to 2014-2015) to develop the RADARSAT Constellation Mission. This followed on a previous government decision to provide the CSA with $111 million over five years (2005-2006 to 2009-2010).
However as indicated in the CSA Report on Plans and Priorities for 2011-12, RCM has only received the previously Treasury Board authorized $96.2 million. And the current 2012-13 Report on Plans and Priorities only details the same previously approved Treasury Board funding of $96.2.
In yesterday’s Question Period Garneau asked if the government intends to proceed with RCM. Industry Minister Christian Paradis responded by saying “We are committed to the Radarsat project and we are working on delivering in a cost-effective way”.
The question on RADARSAT was preceded by another question by Garneau in relation to the 10% cut in the CSA budget and how the government expects Canada to remain a leader in space and innovate when the CSA’s budget is being cut.
Paradis replied that the government of Canada plays a crucial role the space sector and that Budget 2012 confirmed Canada’s future participation in the International Space Station. He went on to say that the government had launched the Aerospace Review so that Canada would retain its leadership role.
Paradis words ring hollow though. RCM will come to halt come the end of August. And the government seems unmoved by MDA’s decision to lay off engineers needed for the build phase. Is this another Avro moment? Is Canada about to lose critical engineering talent?
Not likely would be my measured response. But it’s not just MDA which is facing these decisions. Let’s not forget that while RCM is a major space project for Canada, it’s not the only one. If however you combine MDA’s tough choices with the 10% budget cut to the CSA, then the picture changes. No matter how you spin it, that’s not a pretty picture. How can the government say Canada will retain a leadership role and that they are committed to the space sector in the face of reality? The governments current actions, not words, say otherwise.