This Week in Space for Canada

The CBC “mothercorp” reports (incorrectly) that “NASA has a long-term obligation with other partners to provide (the CSA) with transportation to the ISS” and others wonder what ever happened to the Canadian Space Agency‘s (CSA) annual report on the “State of the Canadian Space Sector” which was due for release in December 2010? All that plus the 2011 Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI) Presidents Tour, this week in space for Canada.

Our first story this week comes to us via the January 28th, 2011 CBC News article “NASA struggles with direction 25 years after Challenger Crash” which focuses on the loss of the NASA space shuttle Challenger in 1986 and how that affected the US space program.
But there is also a Canadian component to this story.
The article correctly states that the current phasing out of the shuttle fleet has a direct impact on Canada’s own space initiatives. But it then goes on to quote Gilles Leclerc, the CSA director general of space exploration as stating that “NASA has a long-term obligation with other partners to provide [the CSA] with transportation to the ISS (the International Space Station).
Unfortunately, that last part about transportation to the ISS isn’t entirely correct.
As previously reported in my December 29th, 2010 This Week in Space for Canada, Canada helped build the ISS using the space shuttle based Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (Canadarm 1) and the ISS based Mobile Servicing System (Canadarm 2). For doing this, Canada was “paid” with multiple free trips to the ISS (with the US picking up the tab) but we’ve used up most of our trips and presently have only one “credit” left.
After that last credit (scheduled for use by Chris Hadfield in 2012-2013) is used up, the CSA will either have no more astronauts or else will need to take a look at some of the other options available for getting them into orbit. Gilles Leclerc is a knowledgeable man and surely knows this so the only logical conclusion seems to be that the CBC reporter who filed the report either misunderstood his comments or misquoted.
But of course, there is always the possibility that the CSA has brokered a new agreement covering future Canadian astronaut trips to the ISS, in which case the CBC might want to have mentioned this. But a new agreement in this area just doesn’t seem reasonable given that the US isn’t quite sure yet how it’s going to get it’s own NASA astronauts to the ISS after the last shuttle retires later this year.
No doubt, the CBC was operating under a deadline and attempting to compensate for the (seemingly perpetual and ongoing) CBC budget cuts. Besides, good documents outlining Canadian space activities are hard to come by so maybe we shouldn’t slam the “mothercorp” too harshly.
And that brings us to our next story.
Each winter since 1996, the CSA has been releasing their State of the Canadian Space Sector annual report. The last report, covering 2008, indicated strong growth among Canadian space focused companies with the top ten highest earning firms each showing double digit real growth ranging from 12% to 48%.
The current report, covering 2009 still isn’t out yet although the CSA press office has assured me that it will be on the CSA website by the end of next week.
I look forward to its release. It will be interesting to see if the new report is able to announce another solid year (maybe I’ll even ask the CSA to send a copy to the CBC).
Of course, if the CSA ever stopped providing information on Canada’s commercial space activities there are plenty of others willing to take up the slack.
One of those is 2010-2011 CASI President Ron Holdway, who last week finished up the Toronto leg of the 2011 CASI Presidents Tour where he talked about “The Amazing Story of Canada in Space – Global Success on a Shoestring Budget.”
Holdway, who is also Vice President of government relations for Com Dev International,
Canada’s second largest space company, focused on the ongoing and “nonthreatening” contributions that Canada has made in the past including communications and earth observations satellites, the CanadArm and our upcoming contributions to the James Webb Space Telescope.
All in all, the current CASI presidents tour is informative and well worth attending.
That’s all for this week in space for Canada.

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