This week in space for Canada is all about the contrast between the generally positive business and industry reaction to the changes underway within the American space program, the silence these very same changes seem to be eliciting from within the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and about what the CSA might need to do to stay on top of the situation.
The standard CSA line on cooperation with the Americans is epitomized by comments made by CSA President Steve MacLean to NASA administration Charles Bolden last September during a signing ceremony of an updated framework agreement covering legal elements required under international law for the conduct of space cooperation projects.
As reported by SpaceRef.ca editor Marc Boucher in his article “Canadian Space Agency and NASA Sign Agreement,” MacLean categorized the Canadian relationship with the US as follows:
“The United States has been a critical partner for Canada ever since the launch of Alouette in 1962. From these early beginnings, we have worked together to forge a space alliance that has become a catalyst, driving generations of space expertise, innovation, scientific and technological excellence through our participation in space projects that continue to serve the interests of both our nations.”
At that time, he was absolutely right.
But of course, his comments came before the Constellation program was “left out” of the FY2011 US budget and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was told to exit the business of flying astronauts, even Canadian’s, into orbit and instead contract out those flights to private contractors using a model based on the commercial resupply services outsourcing American cargo delivery to the International Space Station. (ISS).
So since February 2010 when these changes were announced, there has essentially been no public comment from the CSA regarding them.
Certainly part of this silence is a natural reticence to publicly criticize a valued ally. But there is also a small possibility the the changes aren’t permanent and could be clawed back by US congressmen eager to retain jobs in their jurisdictions or well fed American “dyno-space” companies keen to continue feeding at the government trough of cost-plus contracts. In this case, CSA is correct not to publicly interfere or comment upon what is an internal US debate.
Of course, these potentials and possibilities will begin to clarify themselves this Thursday when US President Obama is scheduled to make a major space policy address at the Kennedy Space Center before meeting privately with members of congress.
So the time for silence might be passing.
There’s also the fact that the reticence of the CSA has simply not been matched by any shyness on the part of the private sector which has rushed to embrace these changes with vigor. For example, according to the article “MDA Says New NASA Direction Plays to Company’s Strengths” published April 9th, 2010 on the Space News website:
“Canada’s MacDonald, Dettwiler & Associates (MDA), which is facing a revenue loss of $20 million a year with the retirement of the U.S. space shuttle, nonetheless views NASA’s proposed new direction as “a dream made in heaven” and is urging the Canadian government to take advantage of it before other nations do.”
We also have recent quotes from Aerospace Industries Association of Canada President Claude Lajeunesse who calls the US changes “a great opportunity for Canadian companies” and others providing a generally positive Canadian Perspective on NASA Changes as per my February 3rd post on the Commercial Space blog.
Since the CSA must deal with these private companies in order to continue to operate it seems prudent to clarify it’s position regarding these US space program changes and modifications. The best time to do that is likely to be soon after US President Obama’s Thursday speech from the Kennedy Space Center.
After all, the CSA might need Canadian business more than Canadian business needs the CSA given that most Canadian companies make more from international and private sources than from the CSA according to the 2008 Canadian State of the Canadian Space Sector Report.
That’s all for this week in space for Canada.
Your last comment is somewhat of a stretch. The Canadian companies may have large revenues from the commercial sector. However, they are accepting more risk by cutting their cost in order to be competitive. Hence, their profit is less that they would like. Therefore, the Canadian companies enjoy these CSA contracts because they could offset the risk from the commercial contracts by milking the government for more money. Also, the CSA contracts is more flexible for technology development where in a commercial contract, development of new technologies is limited since it needs to have flight heritage. Many countries have a Space Agency and companies are always at their door asking for more money. Space Agencies are just another customer and I fail to see the day when CSA will post an opportunity and no one will bid because of lack of interest or they are too busy with other contracts.