The Hill Times talks about adjusting to space policy changes in the US after Canadian space stimulus money runs out and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) allows Toronto based Engineering Services Inc. (ESI) to keep the intellectual property developed from CSA contracts but the Vancouver based Mohammad Institute for Space Science out does everyone by announcing a Moon based laboratory scheduled for deployment by 2015. All that and more, this week in space for Canada.
Our first story this week comes to us via the Hill Times as part of their October 25th policy briefing on aerospace. In the article titled “Canada must adjust to U.S. space policy changes, say opposition MPs” on page 33 of the report, author Kristen Shane warns that:
U.S. President Barack Obama has signaled a shift in his country’s space policy that includes a desire to expand international cooperation in space exploration. Canadian industry players such as Mr. (Anthony) Sallaberger (the VP and director of space exploration at MacDonald, Dettwiler (MDA)) are eager to get in on the ground floor. But some warn that the federal government needs to boost its stagnant space budget if it wants to see the next piece of iconic Canadian technology like the Canadarm on a mission to Mars or an asteroid.
According to the article, the CSA core budget remains stable at $300-million a year which funds existing programs but new programs are either funded through an additional package with $397-million allocated over five years specifically for earth observation satellites (which covers the Radarsat program) or through a $110-million economic stimulus package intended to support new space exploration technologies, landers, rovers and the next generation Canadarm.
With the economic stimulus program for funding new space exploration technologies considered to be the key to Canadian participation in the Obama administrations plans for expanded international cooperation, there are already concerns over what will happen when the existing package expires in March 2011.
According to the article, the government has indicated that it will focus on deficit reduction so there is likely to be no new funds allocated for space activities. In essence, without the money to fund new designs and advance the technology, Canada might simply be unable to compete in any specific “niche” against other countries presently waiting in the wings.
Which brings us to our second story this week. As outlined in the October 25th, 2010 CSA announcement “Canadian Space Agency awards contract for exploration technologies:”
“The Canadian Space Agency has awarded a contract valued at $3 million (CAD) to Engineering Services Inc. (ESI) of Toronto, Ontario, to develop prototypes of a robotic arm, control stations and exploration tools. In the coming months, these technologies will be integrated into terrestrial prototypes of lunar or martian rovers. The contract also includes an option for a second arm worth $500 000. The investment is part of the Government of Canada’s 2009 Economic Action Plan and aims to accelerate the research and development of new technologies for space exploration.”
The contract follows on the heels of two other CSA contracts for the development of a micro-rover platform with tooling arm plus a small manipulator arm as outlined in this December 14th, 2009 ESI press release and it’s interesting to note that the final paragraph of the ESI press release states specifically that:
…new technologies and intellectual property retained by ESI over the course of the work will be put to new and challenging uses both in space and on the ground, strengthening ESI’s position as a leader in the transfer of robotic technology to the marketplace for the benefit of Canada.
Intellectual property (IP) developed as a result of CSA contracts has traditionally not remained with CSA contractors but is instead normally assigned to the CSA Commercialization Office, which provides intellectual property management and supports technology transfer.
However, this policy has generally been a failure and very few CSA advances have ever ended up being repackaged and sold commercially.
But as originally outlined by Marc Boucher in his April 28th, 2010 article “Canadian Space Agency Gives Green Light to Build Prototype Mars Rover” the intellectual property developed through this specific series of contracts will remain with the contractor and therefore could end up being be of substantial benefit to ESI as the company moves forward.
Kudo’s to the CSA for making this change. Canadian companies are best positioned to commercialize any intellectual property developed from Canadian space contracts and should be allowed to do so.
Of course, not everyone has the patience to wait for a CSA development contract before moving forward with space exploration. One such organizations is the Vancouver based Mohammad Institute for Space Science, which recently announced the intent to deploy a small unmanned research spacecraft on the Moon by 2015 according to the October 25th, 2010 AhlulBayt News Agency post “Mohammd Moon Station to Be Set Up.”
The organizations website at www.muhammadinstitute.org goes into quite a bit of detail about what they call Mohammad Moon Station 1 and offer the ability to participate in the mission with a symbolic donation so it would seem easy enough to dismiss their claims as simple publicity. However the page listing the people at the Muhammad Institute include influential scientists and space advocates who I would be loath to dismiss without at least giving them some opportunity to follow up on their claims.
Hopefully the people at the Mohammad Institute will provide us with a little more detail as to their intentions over the next little while.
That’s all for this week in space for Canada.
The future of Space Robotics in Canada is in question. These are words coming from MDA.