This Week in Space for Canada

With the Wall Street Journal reporting that shrinking budgets and national rivalries are slowly undermining European space programs and the Asia Times noting that the cash strapped National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is still able to find US$30 million in new funding for Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP) contestants and the Inuvik Satellite Station Facility (ISSF) opening it’s Canadian Arctic doors to collect data for the German TanDEM-X satellite mission, it’s getting difficult to differentiate space players without a scorecard, at least as of this week in space for Canada.

Our first story this week comes to us through the August 9th, 2010 Wall Street Journal article titled “European Space Programs Come Back to Earth” which reports that shrinking budgets and national rivalries are slowly undermining European space programs. According to the article:
“Debates over financial commitments for space projects by individual countries–and the number of jobs they expect in return–have intensified as a result of the region’s economic woes. Some governments are considering slashing next year’s contributions to the European Space Agency (ESA) by 20% or more, while Italy’s top space official last month stressed that economics and return on investment are now primary factors in determining national funding levels. Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s director-general, predicts it probably will take the European Union until 2014 to substantially reorient its space priorities.”
Canada, with it’s special status as a cooperating state within ESA should take note of this recent turn of events, assess how it could impact existing and expected ESA contracts and develop fallback positions should programs suffer delays or cancellations as the Europeans get their house in order (and those people who don’t believe that ESA contracts could be delayed or canceled should check out my August 3rd, 2010 comments on the ESA ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter mission).
Which brings us to our next story. NASA (which is also no stranger to funding problems) wants to take advantage of the flurry of activity sparked by the GLXP, according to the August 10th, 2010 article “NASA seeks secrets of commercial moon landers” as posted on the New Scientist website. According to the article:
The agency is prepared to spend a total of $30 million – up to $10 million per mission – for data returned to Earth that would be useful for future human or robotic missions of its own.
The money is to be offered as additional prizes for GLXP contestants.
But the new cash could be a case of to little-to late according to the August 12th, 2010 article “India, Russia squeeze Google Moon racers” published on the Asia Times website. The article quotes X-Prize Foundation senior Director William Pomerantz as stating that ““Almost every space agency is talking about missions to the lunar surface these days.”
According to the article, the X-Prize Foundation (which administers the GLXP) has proposed that the $20 million grand prize for the winner of the GLXP be reduced by $5 million if a government-backed lunar mission successfully lands and deploys a rover in advance of any of the 21 GLXP teams attempting to accomplish the same feat.
Potential government backed competitors include the Indian Chandrayaan -2, China’s Chang’e 3, Japan’s Selene 2, Russia’s Luna-Glob, the ESA’s MoonNEXT, several possible but presently unfunded NASA robotic missions, the UK’s MoonLite, and the various nodes of the proposed International Lunar Network.
Canadian subcontractors are providing components for a number of these government backed missions but certainly don’t expect all to proceed. X-Prize competitors (several of whom also expect to use Canadian components) have pointed out that successful government missions could make the X-Prize competitors less attractive to investors, suppliers and sponsors due to reduced public interest.
Which brings us to our final story this week. According to the August 11th, 2010 press release titled “Inauguration of Canada’s First Arctic Satellite Station” posted on the Canadian News Centre website:
Natural Resources Canada, in partnership with the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and PrioraNet Canada Inc., celebrated today the opening of the Inuvik Satellite Station Facility (ISSF).
The main mission of the ISSF will be to receive data from the German TanDEM-X satellite mission according to the August 10th, 2010 article “Inauguration of the first DLR ground station in Canada” posted on the DLR website.
Oddly enough, the DLR website lists the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the Canada Centre for Remote Sensing (CCRS) as primary partners in the project, unlike the Canadian News Centre, which credits Natural Resources Canada (which includes CCRS as part of it’s mandate) and the Swedish Canadian PrioraNet as primary Canadian partners.
Remember what I said at the beginning of this article about needing a scorecard to differentiate the players?
Anyway, that’s all for this week in space for Canada.

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