1985 and 1986 – The Two Years Everything Changed: What’s in Canada’s Long Term Space Plans? Part 3

A space station artist concept. Credit: NASA.

In today’s article, the third in this weeks series on What’s in Canada’s Long Term Space Plans, I’ll present the 1985 Interim Space Plan and what became known as Canada’s first Long Term Space Plan which was released in May 1986. It will surprise you in its brevity.

While 1986 was the year Canada announced its first Long Term Space Program and made its biggest commitment to space ever, the events and plans from 1981 through 1985 laid the groundwork.

The 1985 memorandum of understanding

By 1985 NASA was pressing forward with its plan to build a space station and was looking for international partners.

Canada’s National Research Council had already funded studies to determine what technologies Canada might contribute.  At the time NASA was pressing its potential international partners to commit to being a partner in the space station program by no later than early 1986. NASA had already moved forward with its Phase B contracts in March 1985.

In March 1985 the Canadian government agreed in principle to participate in the space station program. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed in mid-April 1985. Negotiations ensued and the U.S. finally agreed to Canada providing the Mobile Servicing Centre. It would be an incredible achievement that would put Canada in the critical path of the largest program ever undertaken by humanity in space.

Of note, there’s an interesting parallel here with what’s happening today, with NASA pressing its partners to participate in the Lunar Orbital Gateway-Program, another long term program.

In 1985 William (Mac) Evans was the Director-General, Space Policy Sector, Ministry of State for Science and Technology. He would lead Canada’s policy discussions on NASA’s proposed space station.

In his 2004 CASI Journal paper titled The Canadian Space Program – Past, Present, and Future he discussed the MOU and how what Canada would contribute;

Early in 1985, the government agreed in principle to participate in space station and an MOU was signed with NASA. During 1985 extensive discussions with NASA ensued which resulted in agreement that the Canadian contribution would be the Mobile Servicing Centre (a complex system of robots for constructing and servicing the space station based on the successful Canadarm technology).

The Canadian Mobile Servicing System and Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator
The Canadian Mobile Servicing System and Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator. Credit: NASA.

To support Canada’s commitment in principle 1985 the government released an Interim Space Plan (1985/86) which, for the first time, directly mentioned the U.S. proposed space station.

The Interim Space Plan contains the following major features:

(a) a commitment to maintain and develop Canadian capabilities in space;
(b) a statement of the objectives of the Canadian Space Program;
(c) the development of a long-term Strategic Space Plan by the end of 1985;
(d) acceptance of the invitation of the United States to participate in the Space Station Program (conditional upon the results of project rlesign and preliminary definition studies);
(e) support for the implementation of a commercial Mobile Satellite Communications system;
(f) continuation of the development of a proposal for the implementation of the RADARSAT program, including an in-orbit servicing option as a possible contribution to Space Station.

The Interim Space Plan committed $8.8 million for Space Station studies.

The March 18, 1986 Space Station announcement

On March 18, 1986 Canada’s participation was formally announced during a trip to Washington by Prime Minister Mulroney and President Reagan. The announcement came as surprise back in Ottawa and a hastily organized news conference was convened with Science Minister Frank Oberle announcing the details.

During the state dinner that evening the Prime Minister would say during his toast “earlier today I had the pleasure of informing the President that Canada has accepted his invitation to join in the manned space station project. This venture symbolizes our joint confidence in the future, our commitment to shared technology, and Canada’s pride in joining you in the exploration of space.”

Although the agreement itself was signed before the Mulroney and Reagan meeting on the 18th, it would mark the first public awareness of a $1.2 billion commitment though the year 2000 by Canada to the space station program.

How Canada settled on and negotiated its contribution to the space station is very well documented in Lydia Dotto’s Canada in Space book published in 1987 and which is referenced in this article.

One of the more interesting quotes within the book, and which should resonate with anyone familiar with where Canada’s space program is potentially headed, is this quote by Mac Evans. It is in reference to the Mobile Servicing Centre contribution;

The technology of the space station will have to be known to to us in order for us to [build the servicing facility]. A whole new set of technologies are going to low out of this thing that affect the design of satellites, design of robotics systems, control systems. Artificial intelligence will be a major part of this. By being in this program we will have access to these technologies. We’ll be able to learn about them, use them and be totally familiar with them.

Of note, last month during his testimony in front of the pre-budget Finance Committee meeting, MDA’s Group President Mike Greenley stated that Canada’s contribution to the Lunar Orbiter Gateway-Program would secure jobs and Canada’s leadership in, you guessed it, robotics and artificial intelligence.

In the NASA Historical Data Book, Volume V, NASA would describe Canada’s commitment this way;

The Mobile Servicing System was to play the main role in the accomplishing the station’s assembly and maintenance, moving equipment and supplies around the station, releasing and capturing satellites, supporting EVAs, and servicing instruments and other payloads attached to the station. It would also be used for docking the Space Shuttle orbiter to the station and then loading and unloading materials from its cargo bay.

NASA considered the Mobile Servicing Center as part of the station’s critical path: an indispensable component in the assembly, performance, and operation of the station. In space, Canada would supply the RMS, the Mobile Servicing Center and Maintenance Depot, the special purpose dexterous manipulator, Mobile Servicing System work and control stations, a power management and distribution system, and a data management system. On the ground, Canada would build a manipulator development and simulation facility and a mission operations facility. The Canadian Space Agency would provide project management.

Backdropped by Earth's horizon and the blackness of space, the International Space Station is featured in this image photographed by an STS-134 crew member on the space shuttle Endeavour after the station and shuttle began their post-undocking relative separation. Undocking of the two spacecraft occurred at 11:55 p.m. (EDT) on May 29, 2011. Endeavour spent 11 days, 17 hours and 41 minutes attached to the orbiting laboratory
This 2011 image shows the Canadarm-2 riding the Mobile Base System along the Mobile Transporter railway, running the length of the station’s main truss. Credit: NASA/Wikipedia.

The First Long Term Space Plan (LTSP 1) 

In May 1986 with little fanfare Canada’s first Long Term Space Plan was released, except it wasn’t called that. It was called The Canadian Space Program: New Initiatives and was a total of 10 pages.

It wasn’t until after the second Long Term Space Plan was released in 1994 that Mac Evans, now president of the Canadian Space Agency, began to refer internally to the 1986 plan as LTSP 1.

LTSP 1 builds on the 1985 Interim Space Plan. The introduction put Canada’s new plan this way, and could be modified and repeated today whenever the government decides to announce Canada’s new Space Strategy;

In March 1985 the government announced a one-year Interim Space Plan with the objective of maintaining the momentum of the Canadian Space Program pending the development of a long-term strategic space plan. The new Space Program initiatives described herein, when combined with existing space activities, provide Canada with a balanced Space Program whose horizon extends into the 21st century. This long-term program will ensure that Canadians continue to benefit economically and socially from the development and use of space technology. It will maintain Canada’s, hard-won international reputation for excellence in this frontier area of high technology. It will continue to instill pride in Canadians in our world-class achievements and will serve as a challenge and inspiration to our future scientists and engineers.

The Space Station is described as follows;

Economic studies completed to date indicate commercial opportunities for developing space systems and their terrestrial spinoffs resulting from the Mobile Servicing Centre could amount to industry sales for space and earth applications of more than $5B by the year 2000. On the user development side, principally for materials processing, annual revenues could range up to $200M for a cumulative total up to $400M by the year 2000. It is estimated that up to 80,000 person-years of employment will be created in the high technology sector as a result of Canadian participation in the Space Station Program.

For industry, Space Station provides the opportunity to enhance technical and managerial capabilities, to maintain and forge new links with domestic and foreign industry and for securing new markets through participation in technical areas of strategic importance, such as automation and robotics, and materials processing in space.

For universities, the program provides the opportunity to exploit the unique characteristics of space as a research environment and to establish close links with industry and government, e.g. in the development of materials processing techniques under microgravity conditions. It also provides the stimulus for young scientists and engineers to apply themselves to areas of science and technology crucial to Canada’s future development.

Mac Evans in his 2004 paper described the initiative as follows;

With the space station decision now made, the government was able to issue in May, 1986 what is now called Long-term Space Plan I (LTSP I) and provided $476M of new funding. In addition to the space station program ($1.2B), the plan provided full funding ($200M) for MSAT in cooperation with Telesat but did not fund fully RADARSAT due to the lack of private sector interest. In making the announcement of the new plan, the government established regional distribution targets for its expenditures, a policy that has had a major influence on the development of the Canadian space industry.

Announcing the creation of the Canadian Space Agency

1986 would end with another important announcement. On October 1, during the throne speech in parliament, the government would announce that it was going to create a Canadian Space Agency to oversee Canada’s space activities.

The events of 1985 and 1986 would mark a bold series of initiatives by the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney.

About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive LLC. Boucher has 20+ years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 30 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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