This Week in Space for Canada

NASA “sole sources” a $31.2 million contract to a US firm to “execute demonstrations” on the Canadian built Dextre robot as the James Webb Space Telescope goes so far over budget as to endanger other NASA programs. This seems only to encourage the beleaguered US space agency to obsess painfully about whether it should be listening to “Homer Simpson” or “Elon Musk.” All that and more (mmm donuts…) this week in space for Canada.

Our first story comes via the December 30th, 2010 National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) press release “NASA Awards Systems Engineering Contract For In-Space Servicing” which states:
“NASA has awarded a sole source contract to Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company (LMSSC) of Greenbelt, Md., for Systems Engineering for In-Space Servicing (SEISS). This cost-plus-fixed-fee, 18-month contract has a value of $31.2 million. LMSSC will provide systems and discipline engineering support to develop and execute two demonstrations to test and verify new robotic servicing capabilities using the Dextre robot aboard the International Space Station.”
My reading of this press release is that Dextre, which was officially certified for operation last month (as outlined in the December 24th, 2010 article “Canadian Built Dextre Passes Final Exam on the International Space Station“) has essentially been rented out to LMSSC for two tests so that the US based firm can get up to speed on its robotic capabilities.
If true, I’m hoping that some of the money from this contract eventually gets back to BC based Macdonald Dettwiler (MDA) which designed and manufactured the scrappy little robotic contraption and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) so they can continue to improve and refine their robotics capabilities.
It would be a shame for US firms to jump ahead of the Canadian originators of the technology simply because only the Americans are able to afford the costs associated with ongoing design and application development.
After all, space is expensive, which brings us to our next story.
According to Keith Cowing in his January 3rd, 2011 NASA Watch post “Webb Cost Overruns May Kill Wfirst Mission,” mismanagement and cost overrun on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) are beginning to impact other NASA projects.
Cowing references the January 3rd, 2011 New York Times article “Quest for Dark Energy May Fade to Black” which discusses cutbacks to the NASA and US Department of Energy (DOE) funded Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFirst) as a result of cost overruns on the JWST.
The JWST is an international project between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), the CSA and a dozen other nations.
According to the Cowing, “The news has dismayed many American astronomers, who worry they will wind up playing second fiddle to their European counterparts in what they say is the deepest mystery in the universe.
Thank goodness the Americans have forgotten about the Canadian contributions to the JWST which include the Com Dev International designed Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS) and Tunable Filter Imager (TFI) along with ongoing support through the CSA for the science operations, according to the CSA promotional page at “Guiding Light: Canada’s Contribution to the JWST.”
There is, of course, no word so far on where these costs overruns have occurred which seems par for the course lately at NASA and a good introduction to our final story this week.
Keith Cowing (who seems to be having a productive week) makes some interesting observations on what NASA thinks about real people in his January 5th, 2011 Commercial Space Watch article “Space And The General Public: What Would Homer Simpson Do?
His conclusion (that the space community should stop talking just to itself) is certainly timely and follows closely on the heels of this December 30th, 2010 story on the National Association of Science Writers website titled “Orlando Sentinel: At NASA, why T-shirts say WWED? (What would Elon do?).”
At the risk of sounding like someone who watches to much South Park, I just have to ask the question “What would Brian Boitano do?”
That’s all for this week in space for Canada.

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