Is Canadian Sovereignty at Risk by a Lack of an Indigenous Satellite Launch Capability?

Canada has no indigenously satellite launch capability and until the last decade it wasn’t even an issue people within the industry contemplated too seriously. However global security events such as 9/11, arctic sovereignty, earth observation needs have all increased Canada’s need and reliance on satellites. So does Canada need an indigenous satellite launch capability? It’s a question worth exploring as we consider whether Canadian sovereignty is at risk by not having our own launch capability.

In the past two years the Canadian Space Agency has requested two studies be done to determine whether a micro satellite system is feasible and a strategic analysis of the market. Neither studies were released to the public but the fact that they were requested in the first place is an indication that there was a need to look into the issue. The Department of National Defence is also very much interested in exploring the case for a small satellite launcher.

With respect to the question of whether there is a sustainable domestic market for a built in Canada launcher, the answer is no if you consider the question in purely economic terms but yes if you put national interests as the prime motivator. Is there an international market for a Canadian satellite launcher, be it for a small or large launcher? No.

In fact there is growing competition in the small launcher market. So there is little need for another small satellite launcher to compete internationally as there are cheap options available from other countries including the American Falcon 1E from SpaceX and the Minotaur from Orbital Sciences Corporation, the Indian PSLV and the European Space Agency Vega and several sub-orbital options.
Last year there were a total of 74 orbital launches of which 4 failed. Of those, 31 were launched by the Russians with 1 failure, 15 by the United States, 15 by China, 6 by Europe, 3 by India with 2 failures, 2 by Japan, 1 by South Korea which failed and 1 by Israel. Of those launches there was really only one launch Canada could have competed for if it had a small satellite launcher. That would have been for some of the small, micro and nano-satellites launched on the Indian PSLV-C15, which ironically enough included a couple of made in Canada nano-satellites.

But asking if there is a market for a made in Canada launcher is the wrong question to ask. Every single country that has built their own launch capability always done it first and foremost for security needs. Russia, the United States, China, Japan, the European Union through France, India, and Israel all have the capability to launch a satellite into orbit while South Korea, North Korea, Iran and Brazil have launcher programs underway.

In looking at the launch manifest form the past year the vast majority of satellites launched were of national interest to their respective countries, thus they were launched on domestic launchers.

Good Friends with Issues

Canada is fortunate that our good friends to the south of us, the United States, have an increasingly robust launch capability. In fact SpaceX, a private company based out of the greater Los Angeles area has disrupted the global market with new launchers and is reducing the cost of launch. So why build our own launch capability with such good friends?

Unfortunately there are some key issues to contend with when using a foreign launch service.
The first issue has to do with national self interest. Any foreign country will put its interests ahead of what Canada wants. Case in point is the launching of a satellite that could be considered a threat to the national interests of the country who would be launching the satellite. If the foreign country determined that it could not be in its best interest to launch the satellite, it could just say no. And this in fact has already happened to Canada. Radarsat-2 was launched in December of 2007 after being delayed six years because Canada had to find another launch provider, ultimately the Russians, as the U.S. backed out of launching the satellite. This also forced Canada to find another satellite bus provider. These two changes proved to be costly as they added an additional $191.1 million to the total mission cost of $528.8 million.

Originally the U.S was to have launched the satellite in exchange for data. However MDA, the company that built Radarsat-2, had the right to commercially sell the data which could include U.S. military or other sensitive facilities to groups or nations that U.S. would rather not have access to the data. This was unacceptable to the U.S. and so they backed out of the launch. However preceding this issue was the need to find another satellite bus supplier. The satellite bus is the infrastructure or body of the spacecraft to which the payload is attached. The original supplier of the satellite bus was to be Orbital Sciences Corporation, an American company, which at the time owned MDA, however the Technical Assistance Agreement contained restrictions which proved unacceptable to the Canadian Space Agency and the Government. So Canada contracted Alenia Aerospazio of Italy to build the bus.

This brings me to the issue of restrictions and in particular to the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). ITAR is a set of regulations that control the import and export of defence related articles and services on the United States Munitions List. Satellites and related technology are listed in Category XV. Because of ITAR regulations it can be very difficult to work with U.S. companies on satellite technologies and launches as explained in the example above.

At the recent Canadian Space Summit in Ottawa, invited speaker Mike Gold of Bigelow Aerospace indicated that ITAR reforms including Category XV, space, and more specifically satellite technology where on the Obama agenda. Unfortunately according to Gold, the reality is with the current congress reforms in this area are unlikely due to the polarization of congress after the recent mid-term elections.
So if the U.S. won’t launch a particular satellite we can certainly try elsewhere as we did with the Russians. But this brings up another issue, technology transfer and some would go so far as to say technology theft. If you use a foreign launch service your satellite will need to be integrated into the launcher. If you have sensitive technology you might not want a foreign country to see it, let alone have access to it. Launch integration allows the integrator to at minimum see how your satellite is designed, what is placed where, the size of components etc. This could be valuable information to a foreign country.

An example is the recent launch of the U.S. SpaceX Falcon 9 with the Dragon spacecraft. This publication had a freelance reporter do a story on SpaceX before the launch. The reporter took several pictures of the Falcon 9 rocket in the SpaceX launch complex facility, none of which showed amy technology secrets but because of ITAR, SpaceX had a legal responsibility to review them so that nothing sensitive was inadvertently released. It took several days before SpaceX legal cleared the pictures.

The Canadian Market

Canada currently has nine satellites tentatively scheduled for the next five years with an anticipated two others yet to be approved but also tentatively scheduled for the next five years. Of those 11 satellites one is a dedicated military satellite while five will have military capabilities.

Canada is currently developing the Radarsat Constellation, a program of three earth observation satellites, a follow-up to the original and successful Radarsat program. Interestingly enough the Radarsat Constellation wasn’t fully funded until Arctic sovereignty became an issue for the government. The Radarsat Constellation has a dual-role of domestic uses including resource management, sustainable development, transportation and military use for national security. As well the military is preparing to launch Sapphire, it’s first dedicated military satellite. At this point no launch service provided has been contracted for the Radarsat Constellation. Sapphire is scheduled to be launched on the the Indian PSLV-C20 launch which has been pushed back to 2012.

Other Canadian satellites in development include the scientific satellites CASSIOPE and NEOSSat and two dual-role satellites, scientific and security, for the Polar and Communication Weather (PCW) Satellite Mission are being evaluated. CASSIOPE will be launched by SpaceX and according to a spokesperson from the Canadian Space Agency NEOSSat is scheduled to be launched by India no earlier than June of this year. As PCW is still a mission under review there is no launch provider identified as yet.

The University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies Space Flight Laboratory has developed several nano-satellites including the identical CanX-4, CanX-5 and the CanX-3 BRITE mission which are now scheduled to launch on Indian launchers in early 2012.

Unfortunately launch manifests change often as launches get pushed back for various reasons. India, which will launch five Canadian satellites had two of three rockets fail last year. Even though their small launcher, the PSLV, was not among those failures, it has affected their schedule pushing back all the Canadian launches as they investigate the two failures and deal with a backlog of launches.
With 10 launches pending in the next five years and more likely in the future it would seem there’s an economic benefit to having these launches take place in Canada as well. After all, each satellite launch comes with a launch cost, which right now is spent in foreign countries. Those Canadian tax dollars could be spent at home which would also create new jobs and foster the growth of the domestic industry. An industry that would also benefit the scientific community. With more opportunities for space science, Canadian universities and research centres could be able to contribute more to our scientific knowledge base which in turn would help other related industries.

Development Costs and Timeframe for a New Launcher

What would it cost and how long would it take to develop an indigenously small satellite launcher? That depends on who runs the program and their level of expertise. According to Canadian Space Agency officials it would take 10 to 12 years for a full-scale project to design and build a small satellite launcher. That seems rather slow considering recent developments.

Space Exploration Technologies or SpaceX as it is know as, a private company, ironically founded by Elon Musk a South African with Canadian roots, as his mother is Canadian, briefly worked and went to university in Canada before leaving for the United States, accomplished there what Canada may try to accomplish now. SpaceX has built not only a small launcher in the Falcon 1 and 1E but also a heavy lift launcher in the Falcon 9, all in eight years as well as developing and flying the Dragon multi-purpose spacecraft. SpaceX has disrupted the market with its ability to deliver products that work, that are cheaper and took less time to develop than any other company or government has in the past. Musk says his companies accomplishment are in part due to the past work of NASA and all those how that preceded them. That is true, but it took vision, skill, determination and innovation to accomplish what they have in those eight years.

Can a Canadian effort replicate this? That is unlikely especially if the effort is led by the government. However there are many lessons to learn from SpaceX which could make a Canadian launcher program take less time, be cost effective and innovative to reduce the cost of each launch.

What would it cost to develop a new launcher? Once again this depends on who is building the launcher and the level of expertise of their team. An industry expert familiar with the costs of SpaceX said it would cost between $100-$150 million if done in the manner that SpaceX did it. The difference in price depends on the level of experience of the team and whether you would be developing multiple launch sites as SpaceX originally did with their Kwajalein and Vandenberg launch sites. Unless Canada developed the launcher in a private-public partnership model I doubt they could keep the costs so low.
Canada has an abandoned launch site in Churchill, Manitoba on the western shores of Hudson Bay. While in disrepair it could be the site of a new launcher. A launch site in Nova Scotia has also been discussed in the past.

The Churchill launch site was developed mid-1950s for military applications and eventually became a hub for sub-orbital launches of sounding rockets. The sounding rocket used was the Black Brant, a Canadian designed rocket built by Bristol Aerospace in Winnipeg, Manitoba. To date over 800 Black Brants of various versions have been launched from Churchill and other locations.
It should be noted that a small satellite launcher would not be capable of launching the Radarsat Constellation satellites. A medium to heavy lift launch vehicle such as the SpaceX Falcon 9 would be needed. If Canada was successful in developing a small satellite launcher there is no reason it could not cost effectively develop a medium to heavy lift launcher capable of launching a Radarsat sized satellite.

National Strategic Interest

Canadian national strategic interests must be taken into account when considering whether to begin development of an indigenous satellite launcher program. Canada must ensure access to space for civil and military satellites. At the moment Canada is at the mercy of foreign launch providers, having to fit in our strategic needs within their launch schedule and sometimes on their terms. So is it in Canada’s national strategic interest to develop a satellite launcher?

With the need for more Canadian satellites, both for civil use and national security, and with a growing number of Canadian satellites already in development it seems Canada has reached the point where this question must be answered. The answer seems obvious when you consider Canadian national strategic interests. After all, if our best friends and neighbours the American have already refused to launch one satellite, what’s stopping them from imposing conditions that aren’t to our liking and refusing us again?
Our reliance on satellites is growing and will continue to grow. If we can’t launch our own satellites and have to rely on others to launch them, sometimes on their terms and their schedule, then I would argue that Canadian sovereignty is at risk.

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.


  1. Kieran A. Carroll

    Generally speaking, a fine article. I’m happy to see the topic of a Canadian microsat launch vehicle being aired, and I’m happy to see that you’ve done your usual good job in terms of getting most of your details right.
    A correction, though: you wrote, “Of [last year’s] launches there was really only one launch Canada could have competed for if it had a small satellite launcher. That would have been for some of the small, micro and nano-satellites launched on the Indian PSLV-C15…” Depending on the size of a hypothetical “small” Canadian launcher, there were several other satellites launchable. Let’s use 150 kg, the reference satellite mass used in the CSA’s study a couple of years ago. The PRISMA satellites and PICARD (both launched on a Dnepr in June) were within this limit. There were 4 satellites in this range on board the PSLV that you mentioned, launched in July. There were 6 more such satellties launched on a Minotaur-4 in November. And 6 more that launched on the Falcon-9 in December. (There was also a Korean satellite and 4 Japanese ones launched, but most or all of these would not have made use of any different launch vehicle.)
    My main reason for writing, though, is to dispute your opinion that, “…with respect to the question of whether there is a sustainable domestic market for a built in Canada launcher, the answer is no if you consider the question in purely economic terms…” You haven’t presented any reason for that opinion, and having studied this possibility for a number of years (starting back when we were building Canada’s first microsat, MOST), I think this claim is at least debatable…indeed, I have good reasons to think that the *right* launch vehicle could be a commercial success.
    The vehicle I have in mind would be aimed at a market niche that is currently very ill-served: satellites in the 50 kg and lower mass range, to polar orbits at altitudes up to 900 km. Currently, pretty much *all* such missions have budgets low enough that they are forced to launch as “hitch-hikers” (secondary payloads), which results in schedule and orbit coordination problems with their co-manifested payloads that are usually hellishly difficult, and are frequently difficult enough that they cause many small missions to not go ahead.
    Currently, the lowest-cost launcher available is the Falcon-1, which is priced at about $10M. That’s a rally good price, if you’re making use of its full ~ 1 tonne capacity; most satellites in that size range have a large enough budget (in the $100M range) that this launch cost is very attractive. However, the smaller microsat and nanosat missions, with budgets in the

  2. Hi Kieran,
    My assessment of what Canada could have realistically competed for last year, if we had small launcher, took into account whether the satellite owners would have allowed Canada to even bid on those launches. In my estimation there was only the one launch.
    With respect to the economic market I have yet to see a credible study that says there is a viable market in Canada. Having said that I would be happy if there was one.
    In response to the Ottawa Citizen article I referenced there was at least one reply from Randy Shelly who has worked with the CSA and DND and his comments are worth reading in that it highlights in part why if the government is to lead this effort it would be problematic, to say the least;
    The cost of getting to the point of being able to reliably launch small satellites could easily exceed a billion dollars. Then there is the ongoing cost of maintaining facilities and staff.
    Sure it could exceed a billion dollars if the wrong people create and manage the program. However SpaceX has proven that it can be done cheaper, faster and, even though they have only a few launches under their belt, I would contend that they will be reliable. And remember that’s for a program that cost well under $1 billion and developed a small launcher, a heavy launcher and dual-purpose spacecraft, three launch sites etc. etc.
    Unfortunately I don’t see a SpaceX in Canada yet. The closest thing would be a public – private partnership where the government would have an exceedingly light touch. However no one from the private sector has stepped up yet, at least no one with any financial resources to get an endeavour off the ground.
    It will take a solid business plan that convinces backers to fund such a venture and then government buy in.
    But I’m talking about a small launcher that can launch up to at least 150 kilograms, not just a micro-satellite launcher of 50 kg’s as you’ve described. And you will notice that there are only 4 scheduled Canadian payloads that are under 150 kg’s in the next 5 years.
    And my last point which is the whole idea behind the article is that it’s not matter of whether there is a market or not, it’s whether there is national strategic interest in having the capability. I contend there is and if there is then we should go ahead and build it. But the smart way would be take into account the potential market and make it a public – private partnership with the private side in the lead.

  3. The Flying Dutchman

    The answer to the article’s question is “NO”. You cannot compare Canada’s situation to that of Iran and North Korea. Yes, satellite launches could be political but it will always be possible to find a launch given than you show the money. The possible delta cost due to political reason will be far less than building a launch program and maintaining it. Canada is part of multiple international organisations and I doubt that its allies would refuse to launch a Canadian satellite. Canada is part of ESA, and I believe that a launch with Vega, Soyuz or Ariane will always be possible. Radarsat 2 is known to have a military purpose and it was advertised to provide surveillance of the disputed Arctic waters. It was launch by a company in Russia from a country that Canada is in dispute with. Maybe I’m wrong, but what I recall is that the switch from Orbital to Alenia was because of ITAR issues. The Alenia proposal included a launch with Soyuz. However, the American insisted that Radarsat 2 be launch with a Delta II due to political reasons. CSA had to pay for the Delta II Launch where for Radarsat 1 NASA paid for the launch in exchange for images and Antarctic Mapping. Near the end of the program, due to technical reasons (New loads for Delta II main engine cut off, MECO) some internal components were out of specification. Therefore, it was decided to launch with Soyuz since it offered a better ride and it was less expensive.
    If Canada wants a launcher program it will cost 1 Billion to develop it and CSA annual budget will need to be 1 Billion in order to maintain the program and to create demand for the launcher by building satellites. No private company will start a program by itself based on sovereignty concerns.
    Please do not use the term “Faster, Better and Cheaper”. You can only have two out of three at the same time. It is known that SpaceX launch prices are going up. The reliability is unknown and it takes only one failure to increase the cost dramatically. Also, the market will readjust based on the competition where the other launcher prices would go down.

  4. The Flying Dutchman

    Correction: Radarsat 2 was launch by Starsem which is a company based in France where 25% is own by the Russian Federal Space Agency and 25% by a Russian Company. Remaining share is own by EADS and Arianespace.

  5. “Faster, Better, Cheaper” will for some time be associated with NASA and Dan Goldin so I don’t think anyone will use that phrase.
    If the government were to initiate and lead the program than it could theoretically cost upwards of a billion. But why should it cost that much? Who says that’s the cost? Where’s the studies that say that’s the cost? People to easily throw around these numbers. On the other hand we have one recent case by a private company, SpaceX, that shows that for upwards of a $150 million a small launcher program could be done. It only takes one to show the way.
    BTW you said you “doubt that its allies would refuse to launch a Canadian satellite”, the point I made was that Canada’s closest ally already has refused to launch one satellite.
    Let’s be clear, Canadian satellites with no military component would have little problem finding a launch provider. It’s Canadian satellites that have a military component that might have potential problems. And that is the driver here for the strategic decision to build your own launcher.

  6. Hello Marc, Kieran and “Mr.” Dutchman,
    Ron Buckingham also posted on January 5th, 2011 in the Ottawa Citizen at under the title “What’s the Goal.” He makes the point that a business case for a satellite launch capability in Canada has never been made.
    However, as outlined in the article Canada’s Military Space Policy: Part 3, Towards Northern Sovereignty at…/canadas-military-space-policy-part-3.html, the DND and CSA have focused their advocacy around concepts of northern sovereignty using expanded communications and area surveillance capabilities.
    The key to the successful use of these assets is a limited launch capability, which right now the Americans, the Russians, the ESA and other competitors for arctic resources all possess.
    But Canadian’s don’t which seems to put us at a bit of a disadvantage regarding our arctic claims. DND and CSA understand this and are lobbying for the limited indigenous rocket launch capability needed.
    As for the cost, the January 6th, 2011 Ottawa Citizen editorial “Canada’s satellite plan” at…/story.html states that the cost “could easily exceed a billion dollars” which seems like a lot of money, until you compare it to the cost of the typical arctic icebreaker ($3.1B for 6-to-8 6000+ ton, limited-duty, military class 5 icebreakers according to which the Canadian government is also considering as part of the same northern sovereignty mission.
    Oddly enough, arctic icebreakers still need communications and area surveillance capabilities of the type most effectively provided by space based assets in order to function properly. Without those assets, the typical icebreaker is really only as good as the eyes of it’s best lookout.
    A commercial capability would be icing on the cake, but wouldn’t be necessarily be needed to justify the cost of the military assets.

  7. Here’s one more quick point.
    My understanding of the Ron Shelly letter to the editor referenced above (and his follow-up interview on the Commercial Space blog at is that the DND and CSA advocacy is focused around orbiting satellites of around 250 – 1000 kgs.
    Mr. Shelly doesn’t seem to think that Canadians have the skill-set to build this type of launcher because of our small Canadian tax base and our lack of expertise with ballistic missiles.
    He does however, seem strongly in favor of Canadians developing a launching capability for smaller satellites in the under 100kg range.
    This is the man who managed the DND Sapphire program from 2004 until 2008 according to his website at and he seems to be still quite knowledgeable.

  8. Just to make one point clear: I’ll take a cost estimate from someone whose actually done it successfully over someone pulling a number out of their head.

  9. The Flying Dutchman

    Marc, the USA did not refused to launch, they refuse to pay for Radarsat 2 launch. This totally two different things and it has nothing to do with sovereignty concerns. If Canada wants to build spacecraft they have to have at least the money to launch them and not wait until someone pays for it. Also, developing a 150Kg payload launcher is a far cry in stating that it will secure Canada’s Sovereignty. If the military is saying that we can secure Canada’s sovereignty using 150kg spacecrafts, maybe the money would be better spent on UAVs. Radarsat 2 and Radarsat Constellation is and will be use for military purposes and they are more than 150Kg. The majority of Military spacecrafts are more than 150Kg. So the argument saying that Canada needs a 150Kg launcher to insure that the military spacecrafts could be launched is weak.

  10. NASA backed out of the agreement to launch Radarsat-2 in part because the Technical Assistance Agreement contained restrictions unacceptable to Canada. Those restrictions were primarily for security reasons. Since the exchange of data for the launch was now off, Canada had to find a launch provider and pay for it themselves. Keep in mind a deal was in place and then they backed out. It’s not hard to argue then they refused to launch the satellite unless Canada agreed to their terms. We didn’t and moved on.
    I should clarify my earlier comment if it was not clear. I’m not advocating that Canada build a small satellite launcher only. I’m saying that there is a strategic need to start building a satellite launcher program. It can start small but if you want to launch medium to large satellites then the program would have to evolve. The CSA and DND are looking at a micro to small satellite launcher for now.

  11. The Flying Dutchman

    I understand that people may be exited from the latest success of SpaceX. But this website has numerous articles stating that there is a serious lack of funding in Canada for spacecraft/space programs. This remains an issue and I don’t understand why you are now advocating that Canada should start an expandable launcher program when there is very little money to build spacecrafts. Start convincing the Canadian public the importance of Space and we should do more to build spacecrafts before telling them that we should build rockets with shooting flames and everything as stated on CTV. Rockets are very spectacular when they go up and the public gets very exited. But, failures are very spectacular as well and can easily kill a program. It seems in you opinion, that Canada should divert significant funding away from satellite building and risk it into rocket building, where Canada have limited knowledge.

  12. Hey there “Mr” Dutchman,
    Developing a small satellite launcher to support other expected DND purchases over the next 20 years will indeed help secure Canada’s north, no matter what you might say or think.
    The ruling conservative government perceives the need to include a satellite component (for communications and space situational awareness) in their “Canada First Defense Strategy.”
    The strategy also advocates raising the annual defense budget from $18 billion CDN last year to $30 billion CDN per year between now and 2030 and advocates new ships, fighter planes and bases to protect the Canadian north and preserve “arctic sovereignty.”
    Adding a launch component to the mix (so we can launch when needed to support ships, aircraft and other land based assets) will help us compete more effectively in the arctic against the US, Europe and Russia (each of which already has a launch capability and quite a few other assets).
    It would therefore seem like a reasonable precaution to protect our claim to the northwest passage, which we say we own (and the US and others disagree).
    Development costs are small when added to the total amount of other purchases in a budget supported strongly by our federal government.
    In essence, the money is available if we want it and advocate in favor of it which is what DND and CSA are presently doing.
    You might want to learn a little more about this strategy before blaming it on people reacting to “the latest success of Space-X” and belittling the expected end results.

  13. If Canada could reliable count on a free market to purchase it’s satellite launch services then there would be no need for this discussion. here’s an example;
    The Radarsat Constellation will initially launch 3 satellites. With SpaceX offering a launch price of $50 million today for a Falcon 9 launch I say book it now. That’s $150 million for 3 launches. A bargain. Let’s do it. Oh, hold on, Ottawa we have a problem. It seems Washington wants to put some restrictions on this launch, you know, ITAR restrictions. We’re going to have the review the mountains of paperwork, this is going to delay the launch and we’re not sure if we’ll be able to accept the restrictions…darn I wish we could launch these satellites ourselves and on our schedule…
    Here’s a little history on the Radarsat Constellation. Until “Arctic sovereignty” become an issue they weren’t fully funded. Then miraculously the government decried it would spend $497 in total on this program. This is over and above the CSA budget and of course includes other government departments.
    But hey here’s a thought, instead of ordering 65 F-35b jet fighters why not just order 60. The contract for those fighters is $9 billion not including a $7 billion maintenance contract. If you cut 5 fighters from the order you have approximately $700 million you could use to fund that launcher program. Works for me.
    It’s a political decision as to whether the money is made available or not.

  14. The Flying Dutchman

    Since it is story time, lets have another one based on historical facts since history tend to repeat itself. Due to political reason, Canada will develop this 150Kg payload launcher. The program like any other comes in over budget. The government now needs to build spacecraft in order to use the new launcher. So every program coming from the government will be limited to a spacecraft of 150Kg. One day, a program comes in slightly above 150Kg. Instead of looking for another launcher, someone thinking like Marc, would say, let’s just add another engine or strap some solid rockets on the side in order to cope for the increase in mass of the payload. How hard can it be? Then, someone else would say, while we are at it, why not increase the size of the launcher in order to launch a wider range spacecrafts. They manage to sell the idea, and base on a political decision, they go ahead with the upgrade. But the cost is much more than expected. There are several technical issues which cost a fortune. Meanwhile, this program is taking over the budget of the Canadian space sector and other programs are being cut. For some reason, the political landscape changes and now the security between Canada and US are integrated and issues with ITAR are no longer how it was. Falling to deliver on their promises in delivering a cheap launcher, a new Prime Minister comes in, which is quickly fed up with the private sector arrogance, cancels the program. The program is strictly political and has no economical value. Everybody is screaming, saying that is was the greatest Canadian engineering marvel that was ever built since I dont know what. The End.

  15. Hello again “Mr.” Dutchman.
    Your last post seems to be a simple argument focusing on adverse consequences.
    After all, you’re appealing to fear and saying that if Marc is right, then terrible things will happen (history will tend to repeat itself, the launcher will come in over budget, the political landscape will change and the program will STILL eventually get canceled).
    This argument style is fallacious and closely related to simple wishful thinking, since it avoids the original question about whether or not Canada’s sovereignty is at risk and focuses exclusively on perceived consequences.
    The style of argument does fit in with the pseudonym you use 😉

  16. The Flying Dutchman

    Coming back to the article, “MDA, the company that built Radarsat-2, had the right to commercially sell the data which could include U.S. military or other sensitive facilities to groups or nations that U.S. would rather not have access to the data. This was unacceptable to the U.S. and so they backed out of the launch.”
    Therefore, if Radarsat-2 was 100% military, Canada would have agreed to those conditions and the U.S. would have PAID for the launch the Spacecraft. Currently there is a flow of military information through NORAD. Therefore, the security of North America is well integrated.
    So the argument of building a launcher based sovereignty concerns is an excuse for the lack of commercial value in the program.
    Canada is sitting down and thinking, what if we decide to build a Spacecraft and what if someone refuse to launch it. Therefore, we should start thinking in building a launcher instead of thinking in building a spacecraft.
    What will have the best return to the Canadian public, a launcher or Spacecraft (provided that the spacecraft have a useful purpose)

  17. The Flying Dutchman

    Additional information based on other discussions. Europe started its own launcher program after the U.S. refused to launch a French Military spacecraft in the 70s. Europe was fully dependant on the U.S. for accessing Space. This was a time that it was impossible to launch from USSR. There were only two countries with launch capability.
    These days, there are many launchers to choose from many countries or international organisations. The situation is much different.
    Arianespace is currently in deficit. It is very difficult to make money in the launcher business. Does Canada wants another industry that requires constant government funding support? Does Canada intend to cut all international ties to a point that no one wants to business with Canadians? So what is the panic? We need a launcher to save schedule?

  18. Again “Mr” Dutchman, your points don’t follow logically.
    While NORAD is one of four components of the traditional Canadian defense policy (see my article at, it’s certainly not the only pillar.
    Marc is focused on the arctic sovereignty component of our national defense policy and a strong case can be made that our NORAD pillar (focused on continental defense in concert with the US) is often contrary with the arctic sovereignty component (which sometimes puts us at odds with our primary NORAD partner).
    I’m sure you know this “Mr” Dutchman, although I’m less sure about why you’d choose to ignore it.
    I do accept that, given a 100% military RADARSAT, MDA might have agreed to not sell satellite data to third parties contingent upon the development of another revenue source to offset the expected MDA revenue loss.
    But I’m not sure how the rest of your point follows from that.
    Reselling data was certainly not the only US concern over RADARSAT although, in this case, it did seem to end up being the straw that broke the camels back (check out to learn more).
    Under US ITAR law, the Americans could have delayed the launch of RADARSAT 2 forever, just so long as there was a US component attached to the project somewhere (that’s why others advertise publicly their “ITAR FREE” environments).
    I’m also still not sure how sovereignty relates to commercial value, although in the case of RADARSAT 2, the record is pretty clear that the Canadian government ended up spending almost 200 million extra over a period of years as a result of the US delays.
    Perhaps you could provide a little additional clarification on those points “Mr” Dutchman.

  19. The Flying Dutchman

    Ever heard about the Secret Annex of Canada-US Treaty on RADARSAT-2 where the U.S. have access to RADARSAT images regardless if Canada is oppose to the U.S actions. This was signed in 2000.
    Therefore, explain to me why the U.S. would just delay the launch forever when they already planned to use the images for military purpose. Delaying the launch was not in their best interest.
    The Canadian and US Navy was conducted exercises together before Radarsat 2 launch using simulated Radarsat 2 images.
    Like every high resolution commercial imaging satellites, there are restrictions in selling images of sensitive matter. I’m sorry, but I don’t believe that MDA can freely sell Radarsat 2 images of sensitive matter to anybody. Canada does have an export control, like ITAR, and it does prevent the export of sensitive technologies to other countries.
    RADARSAT 2 had many contractual delays and I’m sorry but the Satellite was not in storage for a year waiting for a launch. There were other technical problems which delayed the program.

  20. Did you read the report on Radarsat as referenced in my article? The facts are there.
    Why don’t we just agree that you don’t want a Canadian satellite launcher and that I think it’s a subject that merits serious discussion in context of national strategic interests? Then everybody is happy 🙂

  21. The Flying Dutchman

    Here is the finding in the report which is not dramatic. They indicated their position at the start of the Radarsat-2 program.
    “As part of the RADARSAT-2 MCP, the CSA, in conjunction with its private sector partner, intended to negotiate an agreement with NASA for the launch of RADARSAT-2 in exchange for data. NASA had agreed to this “Arrangement for Enhanced Co operation in Space between NASA and CSA,” signed in May 1994. This document (the “Clark Evans Agreement”) was an agreement in principle to co-operate on several undertakings including RADARSAT 2. Information in the 2009 RADARSAT-2 Revised Project Brief indicates that NASA informed the CSA in December 1998 that it would not honour the Agreement, citing reasons related to the commercial nature of the satellite and the fact that its enhanced performance would be a major competitor to US industry.”

  22. The Flying Dutchman

    Furthermore, my previous comment concerning the switch in launcher is correct. NASA back down from the launch agreement in 1998 and only in 2005 they switch from Delta II to Soyuz, due this MECO event.
    “Since the launch is a CSA responsibility, it had to be procured at additional expense to the CSA, although a 2005 decision to switch from a Delta II to a Starsem launch, resulted in a net reduction in project costs.”

  23. The Flying Dutchman

    Marc, I’m expecting that you publish a correction to your article stating true facts and not fictional event to fuel your cause. It is all a matter of credibility.

  24. The launch was always the CSA’s responsibility. Originally they bartered, if you will, access to data in return for a launch by NASA. NASA backed out of that deal for the reasons stated in the report. You are taking other parts of the report out of context and interpreting them.
    And once again you are missing the whole point of the article. I stated that there was no market for a launcher of any type if you put it purely in economic terms. I also stated that perhaps we should be thinking about a launcher program in terms of national strategic interest. You don’t buy that train of thought. So be it.
    Neither you or I will make this decision. I’m just bringing the topic to the public’s attention because it is something being considered in Ottawa. And the people in Ottawa who will make the decision are well aware of what happened with Radarsat-2 among other relevant data points.
    Building satellites in Canada is a good thing, I support that industry 100% along with a whole host of other related industries. I want to see the market grow in Canada and I’m also doing my part to help it grow. I co-founded and serve as a director of the Canadian Space Commerce Association which is an industry group that promotes and supports the space systems sector. In fact in March we’ll hold our annual general meeting with a core of speakers who will talk about growing the industry in Canada. We’ll be making the announcement next week with invited speakers etc. If you’re intention is to help the industry grow in Canada, which it would seem by some of your comments, why not come to out meetings and AGM and get involved?

  25. Once more with feeling “Mr” Dutchman. Your points don’t logically follow.
    You’ve set up a straw man by asking us to argue why “the U.S. would just delay the launch forever when they already planned to use the images for military purpose?”
    No one here is arguing that concerns over US access to RADARSAT data contributed to the launch delays.
    We’re debating about Canadian access. So why should we need to argue something that everyone agrees is not true?
    And yet the US did delay the launch.
    Over and over again. I’m sure they had a good reason but it certainly wasn’t that the US wouldn’t have access to data.
    I do agree with you that MDA can’t freely sell RADARSAT data to “anyone.”
    I never said they could. By the way, how would that even relate to the debate going on here?
    I want to know. I want to understand how you believe everything fits together into that one totally unassailable point where Canada doesn’t need it’s own rocket launcher, under any circumstances.
    By the way, I liked the “Press for Conversion” article on RADARSAT you cited and would encourage people to read it.
    It’s a good reminder of the power and control the US military possess over organizations like MDA (and even the Canadian government) that come to Washington.
    And that might be another good reason to build our own indigenous Canadian national defense capabilities.
    I appreciate that you posting the finding of the report but I’m not sure how they buttress you points.
    I’m also unsure about how quoting yourself allows you to argue that you’re right (you said “my previous comment concerning the switch in launcher is correct.”).
    Most people looking for supporting viewpoints would focus on quoting third parties to bolster their perceived authority (they might also use their real name).

  26. One more point.
    I’ll also be at the Canadian Space Commerce Associations AGM, being held in the Mars Development District ( on March 17th, 2011.
    If you come out, I’ll buy you a coffee and we can discuss this in real time.

  27. The Flying Dutchman

    I did not call myself The flying “Dutch” man for nothing. So, I’m sorry that I will not be able to attend your meeting.
    In terms of discussions, I would rather discuss ways to improve international cooperation and collaboration instead of finding ways to distance ourself from it.
    From daily encounters, people would like to see more of Canada’s involvement in international space programs. But, this will not be given on a silver plateau like some Canadian companies would think. I can say for a fact, and I don’t need to “quote” someone, is that Canada lost several international programs because they couldn’t get their act together and come up with something solid. Hence, there is substantial work to be done on that front. But, I guess that Canadians are not willing to make the effort and thinking going alone will make things better in the long run. (Going alone means that you will be alone in the future)
    But I don’t expect everybody to understand this.

  28. Well we agree on something. International cooperation is key to Canadian involvement in space exploration. And the space exploration program which is being finalized by the Canadian Space Agency is based on international cooperation.
    There is however a difference between the space exploration program and launching an earth observation satellite geared towards a dual purpose of helping Canadians everyday, whether it’s monitoring sea ice, weather etc. and providing security. If no agreement can be made for international cooperation on such a satellite then Canada might have to go it alone.

  29. Hey guys,
    This has been an excellent debate to read! Further to Kieran’s original post where he mentioned how good it is to see the debate more out in the open (and since “Mr. Dutchman” mentioned it), I thought I would chime in quickly with a link to the CTV interview on the subject from the other week just to show how far “out in the open” it has gotten: Please forgive the rather abrupt ending and the rather superficial nature of my answers. 5 minutes isn’t a long time and it is clear from the interviewer’s questions that he has a long way to go in his education on the space industry. Perhaps this can serve as an example of just how little the Canadian public knows about the serious implications of space technology development in Canada and how we need to focus our efforts in engaging them on the subject. 🙂
    That said, Marc, keep up the great work you’re doing to bring these topics into the public forum!

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