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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  1. The Flying Dutchman

    There are other articles that are posted on this website which contradicts CSA of having a long term space plan. It have been stated numerous times that CSA has a very small budget. CSA needs to collaborate more with other agencies in order to do space missions. CSA can no longer do space missions by themselves. The large Canadian space mission currently in CSA is Radarsat Constellation. CSA can only get extra money from the government when they present specific programs and not long term plans. No body knows where the Americans are heading in the long term. CSA is small and has no control over the long term since it is dependant on other agency’s long term planning. CSA can work on a long term space plan, but it will be outdated in a couple of years. I believe that CSA must spend its time fighting for spots on international missions instead drafting plans base on a vision or dreams and not on real commitments.

  2. The Flying Dutchman makes some excellent points and is indeed correct when he states that the situation today is one where the CSA can only get additional funding by presenting specific programs for approval.
    But my perception is that the CSA made approval of the 2008-2009 proposal for a long term space plan (LTSP) contingent upon an “undefined” CSA funding increase and that’s the main reason why the federal government refused to approve the plan.
    Instead, the government went the micromanagement route and ended up funding the RADARSAT program plus adding a second, $110 million economic stimulus package intended to support new space exploration technologies, the next generation Canadarm plus pretty much everything else perceived of as being “new technologies.”
    So the CSA lost it’s long term space plan and didn’t even really get a budget increase (the stimulus package is scheduled to end in March 2011).
    But long term space plans have traditionally been statements of intent and not budget proposals (just read the history on the Chapman Report, Canada’s original long term space plan if you don’t believe me).
    In essence, the CSA didn’t need to attach a specific number to the LTSP and doing so has only encouraged the politicians to reject the plan.
    All the CSA really needed to do was to find a “Canadian” problem needing to be solved that could be best solved by using space focused technologies. Whatever else might have been included in the 2008-2009 plan, this wasn’t.
    While the CSA specific budget is small, overall Canadian ingenuity is certainly not dependent on any foreign agencies especially if there is a specific Canadian issue that needs to be addressed (and if you don’t believe me, you should read up on the history of Telesat or RADARSAT).
    One more thing. While the CSA might not know where the US is going, there are a number of Canadian space focused companies who have specifically stated that they do know where US space policy is going and it’s good for Canada if we move quickly.
    So while I don’t object to the CSA “fighting for spots” on international missions, that’s not the only game in town for space focused organizations.
    Over the long term, I don’t even see the government supporting that role. If it’s the role the CSA chooses to pursue, their budget and their expertise will continue to shrivel.

  3. The Flying Dutchman

    In the current situation, the CSA budget will continue to remain the same. CSA tried many times to increase it but had no success. There were a lot of debates in the past on missions like Radarsat where the end customer was not CSA. Therefore, it did not make sense to use CSA’s budget for those type of missions but rather use budget from other government departments, who would use the services, to pay for those missions. What will happen in the future or what it currently happening, is that all missions that is strategic to Canada will be funded separately by the government instead using CSA’s fix budget. This is the type of arrangement that is currently happening in Europe, where the EU provides funds to ESA for managing programs that are strategic to Europe, GMES, Galileo, etc. I believe that CSA is moving in this direction where they will provide this type of service to the government. This arrangement would free up the A base budget in order to concentrate on science and exploration missions. These missions would be on the international level where it would showcase the Canadian companies to other countries. Furthermore, the focus should not always be south of the boarder. These new international contacts would provide the possibility to Canadian companies of having commercial contracts. Canadian companies cannot always look up to CSA to survive. CSA can only open doors to other international markets through these international collaborations.

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