This Week in Space for Canada

Com Dev International‘s CEO gets fired but shouldn’t feel lonely since up to 5% of the firms labour force could be joining him on the unemployment lines due to ongoing problems with government satellite contracts. Meanwhile Carleton University sets up a Canada-India centre of excellence in science, technology, trade and policy and an ex-french paratrooper living in North Battleford plans to skydive from 120,000 feet. All that and more. this week in space for Canada.

Our top story this week comes from the September 2nd, 2010 Canadian Press article titled “Com Dev slashes jobs, including CEO as part of plan to return to profitability” which states:
Com Dev International Ltd. has replaced its chief executive and slashed five per cent of its workforce as part of a strategy to return to profitability after revealing it will lose money on a number of its satellite technology contracts.
According to the article, CEO John Keating will also be leaving the company’s board effective immediately. Chief operating officer Mike Pley will take over as interim CEO until the board finds a replacement.
Pley is quoted in the September 2nd article “Com Dev cuts 81 jobs in bid to trim loss” posted on The Record website as outlining:
… measures to prevent a recurrence of losses totaling $6.7 million in five satellite programs that forced the company to downgrade revenue forecasts for the year and led to the departure of (ex-CEO) Keating.
Company satellite contracts include Alphasat components for EADS Astrium (targeted for launch in 2012), advanced payload components for Globalstar (a low Earth orbit constellation providing satellite phone and low-speed data communications), optical payload and electronic subsystems for SAPPHIRE (where Com Dev is acting as a sub-contractor to MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates), scientific instruments for the three-satellite European Space Agency (ESA) Swarm mission (expected to launch before mid-2012) and the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) program, run from Com Dev subsidiary COM DEV USA, which is officially halted although the work completed is expected to be usable on future TDRS opportunities.
Ongoing funding problems between national governments and private corporations looking to run a space focused business are nothing new to readers of this column and our federal government has been better than most. However, it’s still illuminating to compare how differently the Harper government treats iconic Canadian firm MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates as compared to Com Dev. For example, take a look at my June 16th, 2010 This Week in Space for Canada where I stated:
Firms without obvious government support for their space focused projects end up like Com Dev 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.
Who knows what will happen next? This week the company just changed their CEO. Next week they may try to sell their space focused assets to a foreign company and then perhaps the government will have to take official notice.
But as for the the short run, Com Dev shares closed up more than five per cent at $1.83 Thursday on the Toronto Stock Exchange despite the same day release of the company 3rd quarter earnings announcement stating that it had lost $1.7 million during the three months ending July 31.
Which brings us to our second story this week. According to the September 6th, 2010 article “Carleton sets up India Centre of Excellence” on the Indian based website:
Canada-based Carleton University has set up a Canada-India Centre of Excellence in Science, Technology, Trade and Policy at Carleton. The centre will look at joint research projects, exchange of faculty and students and internship opportunities for engineering students in Canada and India. The centre is also looking at creating international job opportunities for students.
With ex-astronaut and Canadian Space Agency President (now liberal MP for Westmount–Ville-Marie) Marc Garneau as Chancellor from 2003-2008 and a strong physical science focus, Carlton is well placed to trade knowledge with up and coming Indian space focused projects through the new centre and its collaboration with universities including the University of Delhi, the University of Calcutta, the University of Mumbai and several others.
Which brings us to our final story this week.
According to the article “Skydiving from the edge of space: can a human break the sound barrier?” posted September 5th, 2010 on the Guardian UK website, two daredevils of the skies are racing to break the sound barrier in free fall and one of them lives in Saskatchewan.
Professional adventurer Felix Baumgartner and retired french air force colonel Michel Fournier are both formulating plans to travel by balloon up to 120,000 feet and then skydive back to Earth.
Both are hoping to make their jump soon and as close as possible to the 50th anniversary of Joseph Kittinger‘s record breaking leap from 102,000 feet on August 16, 1960 as part of Project Excelsior which studied high altitude bailouts for the US military.
Kittinger is still alive and has signed on to sponsor Baumgartner, who is well funded and also sponsored by Red Bull but my personal race favorite is Fournier who has for the last 10 years been operating on a shoestring budget from a tiny airstrip in North Battleford where he relocated after being banned from conducting the project in France because of the danger.
That’s all for this week in space for Canada.

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