This Week in Space for Canada

Back in September 2008, when Steve MacLean became head of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), industry and science experts expected a long-term space strategy document would be developed and released almost immediately in order to provide a long delayed “way forward” and focus Canadian activities.
Unfortunately, no report has ever been released (although one is still promised). Instead we have private citizens, individual organizations and Canadian corporations each acting independently and without the CSA to build their own unique international relationships and space focused opportunities. It’s gone so far that our future in space may no longer be tied to our national space agency, as of this week in space for Canada.

And that’s a shame because Canadian bureaucrat were once pretty good at writing reports outlining practical and useful ways forward. In fact, Canada is today an international leader in the fields of communications and remote sensing satellites because of a report from a gentleman named John Chapman (1921-1979) who was senior author of the document entitled “Upper Atmosphere and Space Programs in Canada.”
The document, now known as the Chapman Report, recommended using Canadian satellites for communications and resource management. It thus became “Canada’s Original Blueprint” for space exploration and formed the basis for the building of an industry focused around communications and resource management. Telesat Canada, Macdonald Dettwiler and Associates (MDA), ComDev International and a hundred other unique high technology Canadian companies are the direct prodigy of Chapman and his original visionary report.
But while new opportunities are obviously available for the savvy space focused entrepreneur today (and we’ll get to them in a moment), the last formal document outlining Canadian space policy was written in 2003. Titled “The Canadian Space Strategy“, it was intended to replace the Canadian Second Long-Term Space Plan (LTSP II) of 1994 (which had last been updated as part of the Performance Report for the Period ending March 31st, 1998).
The core thrust of the 2003 report was a call for the CSA to continue to focus on Earth observation, space science, exploration and satellite communication plus place a renewed emphasis on raising awareness of space activities among the general public.
However, the initiatives contained within the 2003 report were quickly overwhelmed by a series of events including the appointment of a string of three short-term and interim CSA presidents between 2005 and 2008 and the aborted sale of portions of MDA to American-owned Alliant Techsystems (ATK) in April 2008 which highlighted national security issues and economic infrastructure components lacking in the 2003 report.
So we’re presently got a policy document that everyone seems to agree is inadequate. Consensus also seems to suggest that a policy update will likely not become available as long as Canada retains the present minority government which has addressed the issues surrounding the development of a dedicated space policy only tangentially through Industry Canada documents such as “Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage (May 2007)” and the “Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage Progress Report (June 2009)”.
So the CSA is presently without a way forward while industry and science is left to fend for themselves and develop their own opportunities. It’s fortunate that they seem to be doing this quite well, thank you.
In fact, according to the 2008 Canadian State of the Canadian Space Sector Report (issued late last year by the CSA), Canadian space focused businesses are generally growing at double digit rates on a year to year basis.
But the domestic revenue of Canadian space focused businesses is generally growing slower (at .7% in FY2007) than is the revenue generated through exports (which is essentially driving the growth with 41.5% of the total for FY2007). As well, 50% of the all revenue is derived from international sources while the majority of all domestic revenue (81% in FY2007) is derived from private sources.
In essence, Canadian space focused businesses are growing because of opportunities in the private sector and on the international stage. They are following the money, at least in the absence of any strong road map and incentives to move in a different direction.
At some point the money will become such a large amount that no document written by the president or anyone else in the CSA will make any difference to Canadian space scientists and entrepreneurs. They’ll all be too busy looking for private opportunities in the international arena.
CSA better finish their report soon or the final document simply won’t matter, minority government or not. That’s all for this week in space for Canada.

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