LAVAL, QUE. – At least two new opportunities are forthcoming under the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) Space Technology Development Program (STDP) for companies interested in contributing to the future of space missions, a senior space agency official said Tuesday (June 18).
The discussion at the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute’s ASTRO Conference comes just as astronaut David Saint-Jacques wraps up his six-month mission on the International Space Station this month. While it’s unclear when Canada’s next astronaut flight opportunity will be, STDP will help companies in this country prepare for it.
The CSA’s Walter Peruzzini, a manager of the agency’s technology development programs, has been involved with STDP (both in its current iteration, and with previous related programs) for 25 of his 27 years with the CSA, Peruzzini told an audience of about 25 people in a breakout session at the conference.
The benefit of STDP, he said, is it provides an established, recognized and centralized point of contact for both the CSA and industry on technology development in priority areas. A long-term budget of approximately $25 million a year is guaranteed for technology development for the foreseeable future, allowing for a consistent and competitive process under government oversight, Peruzzini said.
Two new opportunities are coming up under the program: an announcement of opportunity for a yet-to-be-decided technology under the Innovative Solutions Canada program (a multi-departmental initiative that includes STDP), and a forthcoming CSA request for proposals (RFP) this month worth $4.75 million. Peruzzini said he expects much competition for these opportunities.
“The demand for requests for [research and development] funding way surpass what we are allocated each year,” he said in the presentation. CSA continues to do regular reviews to make sure STDP fulfills its two objectives: to stimulate industrial innovation on strategic technologies (to reduce the uncertainty when it comes to Canadian space missions), and to support industrial capabilities in space technology to assist Canadian space companies.
There have been eight RFPs in the last five years, representing $43 million in possible funding from CSA, Peruzzini said; recent RFPs focused on matters such as medical technologies and robotics. A prominent example of an RFP took place in 2013, when the CSA identified an urgent need to develop technologies related to WFIRST – NASA’s Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope, a Hubble-like observatory that would search for dark energy, exoplanets or other cosmic phenomena.
WFIRST, however, has struggled to stay in NASA’s priorities since then. It survived a budget cut in 2018, but is again up for removal in the proposed 2020 budget due to cost overruns and the administration’s emphasis on the James Webb Space Telescope (for which Canada is providing a spectrograph and fine guidance sensor.)
Meanwhile, there have been five STDP announcements of opportunities in the last six years, most recently in October 2018. The agency allocated $15 million in this last opportunity, although there was enough demand available to nearly triple that amount; out of 75 proposals received, the CSA brokered 29 signed agreements, Peruzzini said.
“It’s a very popular program with a lot of proposals received every time,” he said, adding that the quality of the proposals increases with every announcement. He added that the agency is trying to simplify the process to make applications and evaluations easier, and to listen to feedback. A greater emphasis on small- and medium enterprises is just one of the outcomes from industry consultations on these opportunities, Peruzzini said.
Another recent success was the CSA challenge for 2018 under Innovation Solutions Canada (ISC), a $100 million hybrid stimulus program to support small- and medium-sized enterprises in an early stage of innovation. (The Canadian government’s model on this is the successful SBIR or Small Business Innovation Research program in the United States.)
This CSA ISC challenge produced 51 proposals focused on artificial intelligence and big data analytics for advanced autonomous systems. The CSA ultimately awarded five $150,000 Phase 1 contracts.