Sunday, April 04, 2010

Rumor and Innuendo Barreling Widely Out of Control

There are certainly enough silly news stories circulating in the world (and the recent BBC comedy skit presented above is a pretty good example of what to look for) but the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) doesn't often end up as a part of one. So thank goodness for RIA Novosti, the Russian news agency and it's amusing, but evidently clueless coverage of what began as a perfectly sensible Canadian space focused story.

It started with an original March 28th, 2010 Canadian Press (CP) story titled "Space Agency eyes Cape Breton and Fort Churchill for rocket launches," written by author Peter Rakobowchuk, who stated that:
"The Canadian Space Agency is looking at the Nova Scotia island as one of two possible sites to blast small satellites into orbit using an indigenous rocket launch system.

The other possible micro-satellite launch site is Fort Churchill in Manitoba, near Hudson Bay, where hundreds of small research rockets have been launched in the past."
According to Rakobowchuck, the article was based on a series of CSA requests for proposals (RFP's) which were issued beginning in 2008 and included assessments of both potential launch sites and possible Canadian built launchers.

But the simple "potential for" or "possibility of" didn't seem to be quite good enough for RIA Novosti which, while listing the Rakabowchuk piece as the primary source material for their March 30th, 2010 article titled "Canada to build bases for space tourism rocket launches," also seems to have added quite a bit of information not found in the original.

For example, according to the revised article, the CSA had moved away from a simple assessment of the possibilities and was now:
"planning to build two bases for launching rockets carrying space tourists, the Russian Space Agency Roscosmos said citing the information agency Canadian Press."
The article also indicated that British billionaire Sir Richard Branson was actively backing the CSA project.

In fact, the only constant between the versions seemed  to be comments from a Manitoba government official who indicated being either "open to discussing the possibility," or else "keen on the idea" or perhaps even "welcoming the idea with enthusiasm."

By March 31st the well respected and American based Space Fellowship blog (which started out as the official forum for the Ansari X-prize) had jumped on the bandwagon by reprinting the original article, with minor corrections on their site under the same title.

These revisions are unfortunately not true, but this isn't the first time that Canada has seemed about to build new space facilities or even the first time that Cape Breton has been mentioned on the short list of potential Canadian sites. For example, here's the August 17th, 2006 post by David Shiga, in the New Scientist titled "Canada set to build its first spaceport" which states:
"The province of Nova Scotia has signed an agreement setting aside 300 acres of government-owned land for US-Canadian private space firm PlanetSpace to construct a rocket launching facility.

PlanetSpace hopes to develop a space tourism business, ferrying customers into space in suborbital and eventually orbital flights. It intends to start construction within a year to have the spaceport ready for its first suborbital launch by late 2008 or early 2009."
The stated dates have come and gone but as of today, PlanetSpace (which started out as the Canadian Arrow entry in the Ansari-X-Prize competition) has not begun construction on the facility and is unlikely to do so any time soon.

Of course, the CSA could publicly release the information collected through it's RFP's in order to clear up this seeming confusion between those who think the questions relating to Canadian launch sites and vehicles have only been asked or assessed and those who believe the questions have been decisively answered.

Then we'd  know a little bit more about what's really going on.

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