Wednesday, December 05, 2012

What the Space Volume of the Aerospace Review Actually Says

          by Chuck Black

As outlined in the December 3rd post "Initial Feedback from the Emerson Report" the early responses to the David Emerson led Aerospace Review have been generally positive.

Industry Minister Christian Paradis and David Emerson are both speaking at the official opening of the Canadian Aerospace Summit in Ottawa from December 5th - 6th. Photo c/o Aerospace Review website.

This reception is due to its surprisingly robust endorsement of the importance to Canada of both the larger "aerospace and space industry" and the small, emerging Canadian "NewSpace" sector of innovative, space focused businesses.

But the devil is always in the details and the document also includes a series of new oversight recommendations for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), an acknowledgement of ongoing CSA procurement problems plus a recommendation to remove CSA from its current policy-making role and also from direct involvement in the design and manufacture of "space assets purchased by the government."

For those who haven't yet downloaded a copy from the Aerospace Review website, here are a few high level talking points and perceptions from the second volume of the report titled "Reaching Higher: Canada's Interests and Future in Space." They include:
  • An understanding of the long term high level of growth going on in the industry right now (just under 10% a year), accompanied by an equivalent contraction in national space agency budgets, which is what the report calls a global "re-balancing" as traditional players begin to step aside in favor of newer players.
  • An acknowledgement of the importance of the space industry for Canada and a recommendation that the government make the same acknowledgement.
  • A second, ongoing acknowledgement of procurement problems and a lack of direction within government in general and the CSA in particular with regard to "Canada's space program and its role in advancing national priorities." This acknowledgement comes with a recommendation to establish another level of government, a "Space Program Advisory Council" reporting to the Minister of Industry and tasked with CSA oversight, along with the development of a series of one, five and ten year space plans and milestones (Page 32).
A shrinking, non-policy making role for the Canadian Space Agency.
  • A second recommendation to narrow the CSA mandate to the point where it would no longer be a "policy-making body" or "directly involved in designing and manufacturing space assets purchased by the government." It would instead advise and support the Minister of Industry, act "as a technical supervisor" to project specific committees and to the Minister of Public Works in order to help negotiate "co-operative agreements with other countries space agencies," plus co-manage (along with the National Research Council) new space technology development. Under this recommendation, the CSA would continue to conduct its own research, operate its existing satellite inventory and maintain the Canadian astronaut program (Page 45). 
    A potential policy pitfall.
  • In conjunction with the reduced role and new oversight, a third recommendation to stabilize overall CSA funding plus expand funding for programs which support the development of space technologies for the enhancement of industrial capabilities, such as the Space Technologies Development Program (STDP), by an additional $10M per year over each of the next three years (Page 41).
  • A sense that the current crop of major Canadian commercial space players have grown up "in an atmosphere of limited competition and in some cases, excessive reliance on government spending," with an acknowledgement that this needs to change (Page 26).
  • A telling quote, originally from one of the three Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA) submissions to the Aerospace Review (but also included in the final report) on "Commercial Space" or "NewSpace" activities and their overall importance to ongoing growth and the future of the industry (page 21).
    A possible future?
  • A recommendation for "encouragement" of commercial space activity. According to the report "some of these ideas may prove fanciful, but others may be visionary and produce tremendous profits for their proponents and the companies in which those proponents operate. The R&D support recommended previously (the CSA technology development program and others listed on page 41) will help stimulate development of the most promising proposals, but its impossible to know with certainty whether a notion which appears unrealistic today might lead to tomorrows breakthroughs. Without endorsing specific speculative projects, public policies and programs can create the conditions for entrepreneurs and researchers to test and pursue creative approaches and, in so doing, jump start Canada's private space activity at a time when the global commercial space business is gaining momentum." (Page 43).
  • Comments on the need to develop an independent launch capability in order to avoid "delays, operational complications and cost overruns," especially in the case of the growing small-sat marketplace (Page 26).
  • A variety of other measures when "costs were modest and there is no risk to public safety" to encourage space related commercial activity (Page 44). These include:
    • Intensifying efforts to procure for Canada more geostationary orbital slots.
    • Simplifying regulatory regimes covering high altitude testing, suborbital and orbital launches and human spaceflight.
    • Making available public infrastructure, such as CSA and NRC laboratories and unused runways, at modest cost for the safe testing of new, space related technologies.
    • Adapting an open data policy for non-security-sensitive raw data generated by publicly owned satellites.
      Another possibility.
    • Extending the "favorable tax treatment currently afforded to investors in flow through mineral exploration companies to investors in commercial activities in space."
    • Having the Federal government negotiate effective bilateral agreements that increase the access of the Canadian space industry to global markets.
Only time will tell whether some or all of the recommendations listed above are ever implemented.

The first true test of their political viability will likely come down with the next Federal budget in March 2013.

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