On July 17th, Federal cabinet minister Tony Clement excitedly announced Canada's latest contribution to an upcoming NASA asteroid mission. But while the Stephen Harper government appears to be hoping that the public will allow it to bask in the reflected glare of this latest Canadian space adventure, the actual state of Canada's space budget might just put a lie to the fancy words.
|Treasury Board president Tony Clement announcing the Canadian contribution to the OSIRIS-REx sample return mission during a press conference at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, Ontario on July 17, 2014. Photo c/o Globe and Mail.|
At the press conference, Clement announced that Canada would be beginning the build phase of its contribution to the upcoming Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx) NASA spacecraft.
Developed by the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre and Lockheed Martin Space Systems, OSIRIS-REx's mission will be to rendezvous with the asteroid 101955 Bennu, obtain samples from its surface and return them to Earth for analysis.
These samples will enable scientists to learn more about the formation and evolution of our Solar System, the initial stages of planet formation, and perhaps provide the chance to study organic compounds thought to have led to the beginnings of life. OSIRIS-Rex is scheduled for launch in September 2015, reaching 101955 Bennu in November 2018 and returning to Earth in 2023.
Canada's contribution will be the OSIRIS-REx Laser Altimeter (OLA), a LiDAR (a combination of "light" and "radar") instrument that will scan the surface of 101955 Bennu to generate high resolution topographic maps. These maps will allow planetary scientists to select sample sites, provide ranging info for other on-board instruments, and allow analysis of the asteroid's gravity as well as aid navigation. The announcement included an $8.4Mln CDN funding package (on top of the $15.8Mln CDN previously allocated in February, 2013 by the Federal government for the initial design work) with a further promise of $61Mln CDN in total funding over the life of the mission.
In return, the CSA will receive 4% of the returned samples for hands-on analysis.
|Page one of a two page fact sheet available online from the NASA website. As outlined in a post on the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission website, the Canadian OLA team includes principal investigator Alan R. Hildebrand from the University of Calgary, deputy principal investigator and instrument scientist Michael Daly from York University, Catherine L. Johnson, representing both the University of British Columbia and the Tucson, AZ based Planetary Science Institute (PSI), Rebecca Ghent from the University of Toronto/ PSI and Edward Cloutis from the University of Manitoba.|
As outlined in the February 27th, 2013 MDA press release, "MDA to help map an asteroid," the original OLA contract, a partnership between the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), MacDonald, Dettwiller (MDA), and researchers from the universities of Calgary, British Columbia, Toronto and Manitoba was announced in February 2013.
Of course, that didn't stop Clement from tweeting, just prior to the July 17th announcement, “Just T minus 11 hours before my announcement with the Canadian Space Agency that is bigger than Michael Bay's blockbusters!”
This obvious hyperbole continues the federal government's pattern of publicly embracing, sometimes to excess, our Canadian space successes.
|Astronaut Chris Hadfield, left, presents Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz with the $5 bill he took into space at a ceremony to officially issue the new polymer note, which features the robotic Canadarm2, DEXTRE and a Canadian astronaut on Nov. 7th, 2013, in Longueuil, Que. According to the March 29th, 2014 CBC News article "Mark Carney wanted orbiting Chris Hadfield at $5 polymer note unveiling," the "decision to beam Hadfield in came from the very top of the Bank of Canada chain of command." Photo c/o Canadian Press.|
The pattern began with astronaut Chris Hadfield's 2013 stint as the first Canadian commander of the International Space Station (ISS). The Canadian government basked in the global popularity fueled by Hadfield's photos, tweets, skype chats and a now-iconic rendition of David Bowie’s "Space Oddity."
In April of the same year, the Bank of Canada and the Royal Canadian Mint unveiled a new space-themed five-dollar bill with images of the Canadian built Canadarm2, the Special Purpose Dexterous Manipulator (SPDM or DEXTRE) and an astronaut. For added flair, Hadfield joined the event via webcam to stir up the crowd and later made a formal in-person presentation. In June of 2014, Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper even made a point of taking a photo-op with Hadfield during the thick of the Senate scandal.
|Astronaut Hadfield, on the right, shaking hands with PM Harper and wife Laureen at a breakfast photo-op on June 9th, 2014. Photo c/o PMHARPER/FLICKR.|
Of course, the Federal government's tweeting, press conferences and photo-ops are in stark contrast to its actual space policy. For example, the Federal government cut the CSA's budget by 10% in 2013, resulting in the cancellation of the Microvariability and Oscillations of STars (MOST) space telescope, one of Canada's greatest scientific success stories.
And following the high-water mark of Chris Hadfield's mission, the CSA has used up its remaining ISS "credits" and won't be able to send astronauts to the station until at least 2019.