This Week in Space for Canada

It looks like there will be snowmobiles on the Moon (or at least designs for them) as MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) subcontracts out a portion of it’s Canadian Space Agency (CSA) rover contract to Bombardier Recreational Products (BRP). Bob Richards also leaps for the Moon (again, but with a different company) and satellite operator Telesat sits at the top of Ottawa business revenue generators where it will likely stay, until it’s sold. All that and more, this week in space for Canada.

Our first story this week comes to us via the April 6th, 2011 MDA press release titled “BRP to Contribute to Canadian Moon and Mars Exploration Programs” which states:
BRP, in cooperation with the Centre de technologies avances BRP-Universit de Sherbrooke (CTA), will develop the chassis and locomotion systems for a Lunar Exploration Light Rover and a Mars Exploration Science Rover. BRP was awarded $5.6 million in contracts by MacDonald Dettwiler and Associated Ltd. (MDA) after they received the mandate of two contracts by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) for the design, development, construction and testing of advanced space vehicles under the CSA’s Exploration Surface Mobility Program.
According to the November 22nd 2010 article “MDA and Neptec Awarded Contracts to Build Lunar Exploration Light Rover Prototypes” the original $11.2 million contract issued to MDA (and a second contract issued to Neptec Design Group) were issued by the CSA to build two different lunar rover prototypes which would be tested by the CSA in 2012.
However, no one really knows whether a usable production rover will ever get built and there is no further development funding, once testing is completed. Essentially, the contracts are simply intended to “position” Canada in such a way that if Canada’s space exploration partners get around to agreeing on a rover mission to the Moon, then Canada could potentially contribute.
This doesn’t sound like a very good business plan.
Of course, there are a lot of other companies, organizations and even individuals also expecting to land something on the Moon over the next few years and one of them is Canadian born Bob Richards, the ex-Optech International Director, co-founder of the International Space University (ISU), Singularity University (SU), Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS), the Space Generation Foundation and Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) competitor Odyssey Moon Ltd.
After his recent (likely permanent) relocation to the US (as outlined in the December 29th, 2010 “This Week in Space for Canada“), the serial entrepreneur has just announced two new business partners for his latest GLXP venture, Moon Express.
Joining Richards as co-founders in this new venture are Silicon Valley entrepreneur and former NASA R&D Manager Barney Pell , who will also serve as vice-chairman/ chief technology officer plus philanthropist/ entrepreneur Naveen Jain.
Moon Express bills itself as a privately funded lunar transportation and data services company with the people, “partners and financial resources to blaze a trail to the Moon and establish new avenues for commercial space activities beyond Earth orbit” although the primary source of revenue seems to be the chance to win the GLXP, a $30 million competition for the first privately funded team to send a robot to the moon, travel 500 meters and then transmit video, images and data back to the Earth.
A second source of revenue accrues under the terms of the $30M NASA Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data (ILDD) program under which the data collected on the Moon can be sold to NASA. Unfortunately, NASA doesn’t provide advanced payments to fund the rover.
As problematic as these two revenue sources seem to be on the surface (Richards and Moon Express need to pay all the development and Moon launch costs up front with seemingly no ongoing revenue stream to assist with cash flow plus win the GLXP against strong competition, including Odyssey Moon, another company Richards formed in order to win the GLXP), there is at least the possibility of revenue and a return on investment at some point in the plan.
Under the CSA plan to build rovers, there is no real expectation of ongoing or completion funding nor even the probability of being used as part of another experiment on the Moon or anywhere else, unless we’re very, very lucky. Plus, the CSA hands the money out up front so there is less incentive to actually finish the rover, since it will probably never get used.
Maybe that’s why Richards ended up moving to the US which brings us to our final story this week about another entity likely to do the same shortly.
According to the April 5th, 2011 Ottawa Business Journal article “Telesat to Ottawa firms on Branham300,” the Canadian satellite powerhouse “sits atop more than 30 Ottawa-headquartered companies listed on the Branham300, an annual measure of Canadian technology firms based on worldwide revenue.
The article further states that “consolidated revenues for Telesat in 2010 were $821 million, up four per cent or $34 million from 2009” but notes that the company is in “takeover discussions that could culminate in new ownership in a matter of weeks.
I personally don’t see anything happening until after the May federal election (see my March 22nd article “Telesat Sale (or Recapitalization) Near (or Not)“) but who really knows how this is going to shake out.
Anyway, that’s all for this week in space for Canada.

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