This Week in Space for Canada

The Winnipeg Free Press reminds us that the Canadian aerospace industry has always straddled a dense political minefield while European based independent advocate Catherine Laplace-Builhe promotes the Canadian Space Agency (or at least she did until US based Facebook shut her down) and the Canadian contractor for the upcoming ExoMars mission reminds me personally that they consider their Canadian contribution to be “significant” and something I should mention here. All that and more, this week in space for Canada.


Our first story this week comes to us via the August 12th, 2010 Winnipeg Free Press article titled “How the West lost the CF-18” which discusses how politics influenced the 1986 decision of then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to award the CF-18 maintenance contract to Quebec-based Canadair rather than the Manitoba based Bristol Aerospace. According to the article:

“Cabinet documents obtained by the Winnipeg Free Press through an access-to-information request show Mulroney was briefed regularly throughout the summer of 1986 about the matter, which saw Manitoba based Bristol Aerospace ultimately lose a 20-year, $100-million contract to Quebec-based Canadair.”
“Memos suggest he was heavily involved in figuring out alternative plans and consolation prizes to reduce the outcry he and his government knew would result from favouring a Quebec-based firm that hadn’t actually won the competition on merit.”

Both companies were in precarious positions in 1986, but Canadair was a Canadian government crown corporation looking to be privatized and the CF-18 contract would make it more attractive to buyers. The firm was ultimately sold to Quebec’s Bombardier Inc. later that same year where it became the core of the Bombardier aerospace division, now the worlds fourth largest aircraft manufacturer.
Bristol Aerospace (then the Canadian subsidiary of Rolls Royce PLC) was awarded the maintenance contract for the Canadian Forces Canadair CF-5 fleet in January 1987, as consolation for losing the more lucrative and longer-term CF-18 contract. In June 1997 Bristol was sold to Canadian based Magellan Aerospace, in part perhaps because Rolls-Royce PLC had no further interest in its Canadian subsidiary once the lucrative government fighter aircraft service contracts dried up.
But Bristol’s space legacy, which began when the company developed the Black Brant sounding rocket lives on and in 1999 the firm even won a contract for SCISAT-1, the first purely-Canadian science satellite since 1971.
Of course, most of this information (while readily available online) is not generally common knowledge and this is due to the generally poor quality of traditional media coverage in this area, which leads into our second story.
According to SpaceRef.ca editor Marc Boucher in his July 8th, 2010 article “The Canadian Space Agency on Twitter” the CSA doesn’t have a twitter account, or an account on any other social networking site. This makes it difficult for the CSA to connect with Canadian’s who read less newspapers and watch fewer 6pm newscasts than they once did.
So it’s fortunate for us that there are people like Catherine Laplace-Builhe to help get the word out. Up until a few days ago she was one of the seemingly tireless administrators of the Canadian Space Agency Fans Group on Facebook.
But if you go to the Canadian Space Agency Fans Group today you will find that there are no recent posts or activities which is kind of unusual for a site that, up until August 20th, was sending out a dozen posts a day on a variety of topics relating to Canadian and international space activities.
The reason for this, according to the “Photos from Canadian Space Agency Fans Group” is that:
“The account of Catherine Laplace-Builhe creator and admin of this group has been disabled by Facebook… A photographer… complained to Facebook that Catherine had forget to put a copyright on her photo album Moon …and Facebook has disabled her account.”
The photo in question, by Anthony Ayiomamitis, is widely available on the internet (for example, it’s posted as the June 20th, 2008 Astronomy Picture of the Day) so it’s hard to see why Facebook management felt the need to act in the way they did. As well, indications are that Laplace-Builhe provided appropriate attribution for the photo almost immediately upon being told of the requirement, but was removed from Facebook several hours later anyway, along with all her Canadian Space Agency Fans Group postings and anything she sent to other groups.
Which is a shame, because she is quite popular on Facebook and her fans seem to be getting angry.
A “Petition to reinstate the account of Catherine Laplace-Builhe” Facebook page has been set up to discus the problems that new media advocates go through once they reach a certain level of popularity and potential solutions that would satisfy Facebook and get Laplace-Builhe re-instated.
Perhaps these problems are a large part of the reasons why the CSA doesn’t have twitter or any other social media account. Hopefully, the Canadian Space Agency Fans Group will be back up and running with new contributions from Laplace-Builhe just as soon as possible.
Which brings us to our final story.
Last week the Manager for Remote Sensing at the Canadian office of Swiss based ABB Group (or “ABB in Canada” as the website states) sent me an e-mail which states in part:
For your information, our company was not listed in the article you found from JPL/CALTECH that you referenced in “This Week in Space for Canada” of August 3rd.
The manager is, of course, absolutely correct and perhaps ABB should have been mentioned in the earlier article since it had just received the CSA contract to build the Mars Atmospheric Trace Molecule Occultation Spectrometer (MATMOS) for the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, which is expected to launch in 2016.
According to the e-mail:
The MATMOS instrument is very close to the ACE/SciSat-1 instrument (that ABB built and orbited in 2003) and the Canadian heritage will very significant. For now, we are not authorized to disclose the value of the MATMOS contributions, but as a reference, SciSat-1 was a 60M$ program (excluding launch costs) and an important portion of SciSat-1 program will apply directly to MATMOS.
Hopefully, the above has allowed me to navigate through my own private little minefield and introduced this site to a few new readers in Montreal who will not hesitate to remind me the next time I forget to mention important activities occurring this week in space for Canada.

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