Last week in space for Canada was all about watching the Americans figure out what they’re going to do with their broken, bleeding and bankrupt national space program.
US President Obama has spoken and now we know his intentions so this week in space for Canada is all about beginning the inventory of Canadian firms and organizations that could benefit from this change of focus away from a formal “space program” and towards a series of scientific programs and business incentives designed to build a “space industry.”
First off, we need to set the context. What did the Obama administration actually propose?
According to traditional media publication The New York Times in the article “Obama Calls for End to NASA’s Moon Program” the US president “is calling on NASA to cancel the program that was to return humans to the Moon by 2020, and focus instead on radically new space technologies.”
According to Open NASA (“a collaborative blog written by NASA employees across the agency, and occasional invited guests”) in the post “A New NASA:”
“Yes, the Constellation Program will be canceled. The Ares I and V booster rockets and the Orion crew exploration vehicle are going away. The Space Shuttle will be retired as scheduled. In their place will be a robust commercial Low Earth Orbit capability built on the premise of multiple providers competing to provide NASA the best offer for services.”
Reaction to the announcements range from the positive tone of the Commercial SpaceFlight Federation ( an “industry association of leading businesses and organizations working to make commercial human spaceflight a reality”) in their press release which “Welcomes New NASA Human Spaceflight Plan, Congratulates Commercial Crew Development Winners” to the generally less than favorable reactions as posted on NASA Watch under the headings “Assorted NASA Budget Reaction Stories” and “Morning After Reaction To NASA Budget.”
Perhaps the most interesting online comment comes from Bill White on SiloBreaker who states unequivocally that “as of yesterday, ISS became a single point of failure for the entire US space program. An accidental fire, significant orbital debris hit, whatever, and NASA’s new direction is utterly kaput...”
Given the assumption that the ISS remains safe (along with its Canadian designed and built CanadArm2 and Dextre appendages), which of us in Canada are likely to benefit from these changes?
The obvious winners would seem to be medium and larger sized companies like MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) and ComDev International who possess a long and unmatched history of working with American prime contractors along with hard earned knowledge of the various permutations and combination’s relating to the laws and regulations surrounding ITAR (the International Traffic in Arms Regulations). No one else can match Canadian expertise in this area and these companies will serve as prime conduits into the US market for foreign subcontractors looking to take advantage of the new opportunities for international cooperation.
Of course, this will happen only if the Obama administration acts on it’s stated intention to reform the ITAR regulations as outlined in the article “Obama ITAR Reform Could Move Satellites Back To Commerce,” which was originally published on the Res Cummunis aerospace focused legal blog.
There is also a second potential area where Canadian companies are well positioned to benefit from the NASA changes. These are generally smaller companies who are presently subcontractors to larger US based companies expecting to benefit from the $6B in new funding which the Obama administration has announced will be earmarked for NASA to develop commercial spacecraft that could carry astronauts into low Earth orbit and for developing new space technologies.
These are companies like Halifax based Nautel, presently subcontracting to the US based Ad Astra Rocket Company as part of the team developing deep space propulsion technologies and a little bit of basic research will likely turn up several more Canadian companies in similar situations.
These small but skilled Canadian firms might just be the real beneficiaries of changes in the US space policy since their expertise depends less on access and more on knowledge and expertise.
That’s all for this week in space for Canada.