This Week in Space for Canada

The worldwide commercial space market heats up as Iridium Satellite Communications caps a two billion dollar turnaround with a $492 million USD launch contract to Elon Musk and his Space-X cowboys. Meanwhile, back in Canada our federal government finally ponies up another $26.4 million CDN to MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) to continue work on phase “C” of the RADARSAT Constellation mission and COMDEV International CEO John Keating tells shareholders that his company continues to learn “painful lessons” about the design and profit challenges with public sector projects. All that and more, this week in space for Canada.

Let’s start with the June 16th, 2010 Fast Company post titled “SpaceX Lands $490 Million Satellite Launching Contract” which states the commercial space industry in the U.S. is suddenly “ablaze with activity.” According to the article“SpaceX has just announced a $492 million deal with Iridium to launch numerous satellites into orbit, and it’s all thanks to the Falcon 9 rocket success.”
The contract is a good match for both sides with Iridium able to launch several satellites on each Falcon-9 at a lower cost per launch and Space-X getting a second revenue stream large enough to render it virtually independent from NASA budget woes.
It’s also a logical follow-on to the recent Iridium announcement that the company was ordering 81 spacecraft from Thales Alenia Space of France to upgrade its global network as outlined in the June 2nd, 2010 BBC News article “Huge order for Iridium spacecraft.”
This is the first private sector space focused initiative in a long time that’s been able to overwhelm anything happening in the public sphere. Of course, it’s likely not be the last.
But what about Canada, you ask?
Up here all the space focused news is still focused on the spaces between the government funding grants. For example, as per the “Further update on RADARSAT Constellation Mission contract” posted today on Canada Newswire:
MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA), a provider of essential information solutions, announced today that the Canadian Space Agency has extended its authorization for the Company to continue its work on the Design Phase (Phase C) of the RADARSAT Constellation Mission. This Authorization to Proceed is for $26.4 Million (CAD).
Thank goodness MDA has the full support of the Federal government for RADARSAT Constellation as outlined in the March 4th, 2010 article “Budget 2010 – The News is not all bad for the Canadian Space Agency.” Firms without obvious government support for their space focused projects end up like COMDEV International which, according to the Ottawa Citizen article “Com Dev still plagued by ‘painful lessons’” is still learning “painful lessons” about the design and profit challenges with public sector projects. According to the article:
“Com Dev shares plunged more than 20 per cent when it revealed that sales and profits tumbled, missing analyst expectations by a wide margin. Commercial business was strong, but government projects in Canada and the U.S. have proved to be minefields.”
Some of my friends in the industry have a phrase they use to describe what seems to be happening to COMDEV right now. They say that “the government is threatening to fund them.”
It might simply be a question of paperwork or waiting for the appropriate bill to be approved by parliament, but there are also legitimate and growing concerns that the government (both ours and the American’s) has simply run out of money and might be unable to fulfill existing mandates.
For example, Canadian astronaut Julie Payette‘s made comments at the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce on June 9th on “the importance of funding for a Canadian space program” according to the post “Canadian Astronaut Speaks to the GVCC” on the C-FAX 1070 News website.
On May 11th, 2010 while speaking before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology (INDU), CSA President Steve MacLean stated that the CSA likely needed an additional $2 billion over five years in order to “drive innovation” according to the article “Bill to push Canada in space to top $2B: MacLean” from the PARS3C blog.
That’s all for this week in space for Canada.

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