This Week in Space for Canada

The Canadian Press quotes Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president Steve MacLean as stating that Canadian astronauts could end up riding to the International Space Station (ISS) on board commercial vehicles but forgets to ask why or how. Former Optech International Director and current Google Lunar X-Prize competitor Robert Richards dodges the fictional Kobayashi Maru test of character by moving to the US, plus potential Telesat buyers refine their bids as they move to purchase the Canadian telecommunications icon. All that and more, this week in space for Canada.

Our first story comes to us via the December 28th, 2010 Canadian Press article “Final frontier going commercial” which quotes our normally shy and conditional CSA president as stating “If you were to ask me to be a betting man, when the time comes, that (the choice of transport for Canadian astronauts to the ISS) will be a decision that I could see that could happen… If everything goes well, and if it shows that to our satisfaction everything is OK, everything is safe and secure, yes, it’s possible.
According to the article, Canada helped build the ISS using the space shuttle based Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (Canadarm 1) and the ISS based Mobile Servicing System (Canadarm 2). For helping to build the ISS, Canada was “paid” with multiple free trips to the ISS (with the US picking up the tab) and has one “credit” left.
The article, provides three Canadian options after our credits run out when Chris Hadfield concludes his six-month stay on the ISS and returns to Earth in late 2012.
The options are the US based commercial sector (which seems to have the most options all by itself with the Space-X dragon capsule, the Bigelow/ Boeing CST-100 capsule and the recent Orbital Sciences Corporation winged landing vehicle among other options), the European Space Agency‘s (ESA) Automated Transfer Vehicle (which has been flying supplies to the ISS since 2008) and the existing, Russian built Soyuz capsules.
Left unsaid by the article is the rational for any final choice of vehicle to use. That rational (no matter how many times someone might say something else) is actually money.
The CSA and it’s predecessor government agencies spent money on robotics and Canadarms back in the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s and has been living off that legacy ever since. If we can find a new customer that needs what is essentially a “space construction crane” then perhaps we can live off that legacy a little longer. Otherwise, their ain’t going to be many more CSA astronauts after 2012.
The CSA simply doesn’t have the money to send Canadians into orbit if they have to pay.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to get into space or participate in the upcoming next great space race. We’ll just need to start getting a little creative and that brings us to our second story this week.
According to comments made during the December 21st, 2010 edition of the Space Show with Dr. David Livingston, a long term Canadian space entrepreneur is relocating to Silicon Valley.
Dr. Robert Richards feels that “the place to be for commercial space is the United States at this point in time and the epicenter of commercial space is the west coast of the United States.” According to Richards, the “mind-set” for funding and implementing space focused activities is migrating north from southern California into the cradle of the tech revolution.
He does say that one of his most rewarding times was made possible through the backing of the CSA for his work on the Phoenix Mars Mission but “if you take a look at the (CSA) budget, it’s only a minute fraction of what NASA gets.” As well, according to Richards, Canada is “not a good place” to build a commercial space company.
Richards recently left Isle of Man based Google Lunar X-prize competitor Odyssey Moon to form a second, American based competitor, Moon Express, which is competing for for the same prize.
According to Richards, there are several NASA contracts available for US based X-prize competitors that Odyssey Moon was not eligible for and the creation of the US based Moon Express allowed Richards to solve his own personal Kobayashi Maru test of character (although, for those of us who aren’t up on our Star Trek terms, he’s not all that terribly clear on the specifics of his challenge).
All in all, it’s a fascinating interview and well worth listing to for insight on the business and scientific environment in Canada and the US.
Global Canadian satellite provider Telesat also looks set to move south over the next little while according to the December 15th, 2010 article on the Advanced Television blog titled “Intelsat and Eutelsat want Canada’s Telesat.”
According to the article:

(US based) Intelsat is now the front runner in the bidding battle to buy the Canadian satellite operator, and is seen to be ahead in the process thanks to a complex restructuring which will therefore comply with US anti-monopoly regulations.

It was only 18 months ago that I suggested that “Telesat HQ Likely to Remain In Ottawa Just Down the Street from Golf Course” so I guess changes are happening at a fast and furious pace these days.
Anyway, that’s all for this week in space for Canada.

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Staff Writer