This Week in Space for Canada

Federal Industry Minister Tony Clement wishes RADARSAT 1 a happy 15th birthday while opposition MP’s start thinking that it might be time to reassess Canadian space policy and Macdonald Dettwiler (MDA) shows the way forward by meeting current RADARSAT milestones and selling off their entire property data unit (even though they sorta said they kinda wouldn’t). All that and more, this week in space for Canada.

Our first story this week comes to us via the November 4th, 2010 Industry Canada press release “Minister Clement Celebrates the 15th Anniversary of the Canadian RADARSAT-1 Satellite” which states:

The launch of the Canadian RADARSAT-1 satellite into orbit on November 4, 1995, marked the beginning of the RADARSAT Program, which has continued to deliver outstanding service to Canada and the world for 15 years and counting.

The press release goes on to quite Tony Clement, the Minister of Industry responsible for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) as stating:
I am pleased to highlight today this remarkable milestone of RADARSAT-1, a cornerstone of the Canadian Space Program. RADARSAT Program has already far exceeded expectations and is recognized around the world for its consistent and reliable performance, delivering critical data to clients in Canada and more than 60 countries. Over the past 15 years, RADARSAT-1 images have been crucial to helping us manage the sustainable development of our resources, enhance safe navigation in our icy waters and learn more about our impact on our planet.
The press release also reminds everyone that the Conservative government allocated $397 million to the CSA in the 2010 federal budget to “continue its cutting-edge programs, including the Constellation Mission.
Left unsaid by the minister is that the CSA core budget remains stable at $300-million a year (which funds existing programs) while the extra $397 million provided to the CSA in the 2010 budget is almost totally allocated to the RADARSAT program. A second, $110 million economic stimulus package in the 2010 budget intended to support new space exploration technologies and the next generation Canadarm, will wind down in March 2011.
In essence, starting next spring, there likely won’t be much extra money in the CSA budget to support much of anything, except perhaps for paperwork at headquarters and the RADARSAT program.
Which brings us to our second story. According to the November 4th, 2010 post on the PARS3C blog titled “Time for Canada to shift policy along with U.S.: opposition MPs,” there is a growing consensus among opposition politicians that, while things are relatively fine now, within the next couple of years there will be questions regarding the appropriate direction for Canadian space exploration to take and the amount of funds required to do so.
Some of the reasons for this include the lack of a public Canadian long term space plan, the end of support and funding for new technologies/ projects and the sharp turn toward commercial activities and “breakthrough technologies” that the US seems to be making (and which Canada seems ill prepared to follow along with).
All in all, it seems a fine start to building a political consensus around the development of the new long term space plan that the CSA needs but was unable to develop in-house during the 2008 – 2009 period.
Just so long as no other organization or agency beats them to the punch and defines Canada’s future in space before the politicians are able to get around to it.
Which brings us to our final story. BC based MDA, the prime contractor for the RADARSAT program, has just made two announcements which might, more than anything else over the last little while, provide a clue to the future of Canadian space focused activities, irrespective of what our politicians might want to decide.
According to the November 4th, 2010 Defenceworld article titled “MDA Signs $80 (million) Contract for Radarsat from Canada” the company has reached the latest milestone for payments under the program and is well positioned to move forward with the project.
According to the November 5th, 2010 Canadian Press article “MacDonald, Dettwiler gets out of property information business” the company has sold its property information business for $850 million to TPG Capital, a private equity firm formerly known as Texas Pacific Group. This sale should allow the company to focus on its core strengths in Information Systems and geospatial services (which include the RADARSAT program).
That’s all for this week in space for Canada.

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