CSA President MacLean Makes the Case for Canada in Space (Part 2)

So suddenly and perhaps unexpectedly Canada became a space-faring nation. Yet we are very different from the two rivals that were involved in space. We lacked the resources. We lacked the population and of course we lacked that air experience or at least it appeared we lacked the experience. And to a large extent the Soviet Union and the United States went to space because they could. But in our case, we went to space because we had to. And the reason for that is simple. Canada is the second-largest country in the world. We have the largest continuous coastline in the world. We are a country that’s bounded by coast to coast to coast. It was very important to get vehicles into orbit so that we could monitor our vast territory. And in 1962 Canada was largely undeveloped. I mean it’s still in a way true today. Places were hard to reach. It’s sparsely populated. You know above 70 degrees we only have 5,000 people. And our climate is as challenging then – was as challenging then as it is today. So it’s impossible to observe our territory and communicate effectively at ground level. We had to go into space and this puts our safety and security at risk. It makes it difficult to predict the weather or to monitor the movement of ships in our icy waters, those kinds of things that we can do today.

Even before 1962 we knew the solution was space technology. The scientific knowledge being brought back to the earth by the United States and the Soviet Union just merely confirmed that that was incredibly important. But our economy at the time, even though it was robust, it was small and particularly compared to the two superpowers. The fact is we knew what we had to do but we lacked the resources at that time to get it done. And of course that all changed with the launch of Alouette 1 that early day in 1962. Formed just a couple of years earlier NASA was seeking international collaboration for its emerging satellite program and like a good neighbour, because of our history, it invited us to participate. Of course we had actually no experience like I said and yet as I pointed out the resources were extremely limited but even with that we kind of said yes we’ll go.
So John Chapman, Ed Eldon Warren, submitted a proposal to government – and this impresses me – because just two months later it was approved. And I’ve been working on three things in government for three years and don’t have approval yet, so I tip my hat to John Chapman and he deserves to have our building named after him.
Anyways NASA accepted that proposal and under Chapman’s leadership we started building those two satellites. It wasn’t easy. We had setbacks. We had to learn how to do it. We were fortunate because transistors were brand new, solar cells were brand new, you could integrate that in and end up building a very small satellite. We had several innovative ideas, using a bi-metallic strip, Spar developed roll-up antennas, very much like a tape measure but it rolls and because shape-memory in the alloy rolls into an antenna and keeps that shape. Those antennas have been used on Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and they are still used today, exactly the same technology and patents have to be stretched to longer than the 17 years that they’re there for that. It took us three and a half years. Several challenges for these 145 kilogram satellites but eventually they were ready for takeoff. They were transported to California and they launched into a near 1,000 kilometre perfect orbit.
Now there was an engineer the morning of the launch. Just before he pushed the button and launched the satellite he said, “This satellite will function for only 20 minutes and that’s if it survives the launch.” There is a difference between how Americans think and how Canadians think when it comes to that. A Canadian will step back and say, “Hmm, what did I do wrong to deserve that comment?’ where…anyways, I won’t take that any further. But I learned that story about 10 years after I started and I felt insulted when I heard it. Anyways we had the last word because the satellite functioned for 10 years, it’s generated over a 1,000 papers and space weather, which that is a major part of, is what that’s all about and we were pioneers in that area.
But anyway, many others at NASA liked what they saw because immediately after the launch of Alouette 1, we signed an agreement to launch the ISIS series of satellites. That’s ionospheric sounding studies that became ISIS I and ISIS II and so after Alouette II was launched just a few years later and then the ISIS series, our place in space was incredibly secure. The challenge would remain to enhance – how do we enhance that position? How do you maintain that position and only then are you reaping the full benefits of what we’re trying to do?
Now, perhaps you’re all sitting there and you’re saying, “This is an old story. This is old stuff. So why are you even talking about it? This space business is so different today.” Perhaps that’s true, but within that history, with respect to innovation, there are a number of key lessons, not only for Canada, but for all countries that are emerging today that are eager to enjoy the benefits that satellites bring. The lessons that we learned then are just as relevant today. I outlined how we got into space 50 years ago. Let’s compare how we do that today. Just as in 1962, it almost always begins with another space agency. They plan to go into space but for their mission to succeed, they need something from Canada. They need a technology that we have, something that only our expertise can provide. So they invite us to participate, to contribute in one or more or many of the areas in which we excel and in exchange we get to share the benefits of the entire mission and it’s a win-win for everybody that’s involved. And that was the Alouette mission in a nutshell. That’s how it worked. It was done through international cooperation.
And after 50 years, this kind of collaboration has to remain at the heart of our innovation when it comes to space, Canada’s approach to space. It has to be done that way. And to be absolutely blunt, we don’t have the resources to do it on our own. If we spent all the money we’re spending in Canada in space right now, which is over a billion dollars per year, this is not enough to have an indigenous launch capability. So we need to rely on these mutual partnerships, not only with other countries and other space agencies but also here at home among Canada’s space industry, the government departments, the academia and the educational and science institutions that we have. Collaboration and partnership work very well for us and we are very good at it.
Now let me offer sort of one compelling piece of evidence. After the shuttle started in 1981, after all those years in the shuttle program, aside from the US and Russia, Canada has flown more people in space than any other nation. And it’s directly due to the effectiveness of our collaboration in all the other areas we work with NASA on. So today the leverage partnerships we’ve gotten with other nations and other agencies are the drivers of our program. It’s this leverage that’s important. In return our contributions, Canadian scientists, and all Canadians gain access to and enjoy the advantages of the science that we’re involved with, the science that we’ve gained from these countless missions. So it really is a win-win. More often than not the value we derive from that access far outweighs our initial investment. Maybe sometimes we have to keep that a little quiet, but it really does. It’s an effective partnership for us. At the same time, the key component we contribute almost always supports the success of the entire mission and the component that we take out often means the mission won’t work and this is a privileged position to be in. So, partnerships aren’t always how much money you spend, it’s the importance of what you achieve with the money that you spend and this is something that we have been able to do well.
So I’m going to share three examples with you of things that we’re involved with that show this. And they go everywhere from being involved in just a component, an instrument, to the entire satellite. And I’m going to start with MOPITT. MOPITT is an instrument that Canada built in its entirety that was launched on the Terra satellite, which is a NASA satellite well over ten years ago. And MOPPET stands for the Measurements of Pollution in the Troposphere. Basically what we flew was a gas correlation radiometer and a gas correlation radiometer – on the ground they’re fairly easy to make, but to get them to work in space with the precision that we have got them to work with in space, is where the innovation is. What you do, is you fly a – we’re measuring carbon monoxide and methane – you fly a little bit of carbon monoxide and methane on the satellite. That small sample of gas serves as a calibration and also serves to self-correct the systematic error in your measurement and consequently you get very accurate measurements of carbon monoxide. We’ve been flying that instrument for ten years. We have globally found out what the distribution, what the sources are for the local sources of pollution for carbon monoxide over the last ten years, whether they’re industrial or natural, from forest fires, etc, and what the transport phenomenon is for carbon monoxide around the world.
You know I flew in space in 1992 in the fall. I again flew in the fall in 2006. When I flew over China in 1992, the center of the city was smogged out. In 2006 the entire country is smogged out and I’m not exaggerating. The pollution that’s coming out of China is amazing and we measure that with the MOPITT satellite and we watch how it gets into the arctic vortex and spins around.
Now this information is updated every four days and this is helping our anti-pollution laws if you like. I was an advisor for the government in Copenhagen and I can remember at the table and I was an observer, I wasn’t directly involved in the negotiations but I was advising the team afterwards. China was saying, “We will reduce our measurements but we’re not interested in having you measure them. We’ll just reduce them.” Like we’re looking at them from the other side of the table, we’ve been measuring it for ten years, you know. So it is very important that people understand what we’re able to do. So in 2003, when there were massive numbers of fires were burning in Western Canada, we were able to quantify how much carbon monoxide was put into the air. We have many maps that show and track this pollution. So originally designed for five years, MOPITT is still alive today.
And despite those singular achievements, MOPITT is only a small part of a much larger mission and this mission is NASA’s Earth Observation Mission or EOS. Conceived in the 80’s, EOS is a series of coordinated polar orbiting satellites and they measure everything from radiation, clouds, water vapour, precipitation, it studies the ocean, it maps the glacier transformations, the greenhouse gasses, land surface, hydrology and ecosystem processors and much, much more. In fact EOS consists of perhaps the most comprehensive study of our atmosphere to date. And Canada, thanks to MOPITT, which is just a small piece of that, gets all that data and can apply it to our work that we’re doing. Not only is it beneficial for the equipment that we work with, we can maintain an entire community academically, analysing and studying that data and contributing to the world forum with respect to what we do and it’s because of that that we have – some of the best atmospheric modellers are from Canada. And the model that is used today globally is the Canadian model for atmospheric study and it’s because of – sort of strategically what instruments you’re going to be involved in on this side, on this hand, keeping that academic community alive in a much larger force because we have access to all that data through that leverage. So it’s a small contribution we made, but I consider it a very important one.
Continue to part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4

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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