Monday, April 24, 2017

More on Canada's "Next Top Astronauts," Canada's "Failure To Scale" & Is Our Space Agency "Muzzling" its Contractors?

          By Henry Stewart

There's nothing new under the sun and pretty much everything happening today is understandable when placed in the context of what's happened in the past. That's why this blog is currently running two historical series, by acknowledged Canadian experts, on "A History of the Canadian Space Program - Policies & Lessons Learned Coping with Modest Budgets," and "150 Years of Canadian Aerospace History."

Given that. and for the week of April 24th, 2017, here are a few of the stories we're currently tracking for the Commercial Space blog:

At least they're mostly not "striking a pose" or wearing heels. We're down to the "final seventeen," an important enough milestone to splurge on brown polo's and organize a group shot with the innovation minister (on the left, with his back facing the camera). A final decision on the two Canadian astronaut openings is expected to be announced sometime this summer. To view the complete April 24th, 2017 press conference, please click on the graphic above. Screenshot c/o CSA.
  • As the hot PR winds continue to blow, Federal minister of innovation Navdeep Bains has announced the "final seventeen" candidates completing for the two open slots in the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) astronaut corps. 
As outlined in the April 24th, 2017 Global News post, "Final candidates unveiled as Canada searches for 2 new astronauts," the finalists now include "twelve men and five women, roughly reflecting the ratio of men to women who applied to the program." A complete listing of the remaining seventeen candidates are available online on the CSA "Who are the astronaut candidates?," webpage.
The competition, being run by the CSA, began last year with over 3,700 applications received. 
That field was initially reduced (with much fanfare) to seventy-two, and then reduced again earlier this year to thirty-two candidates. The expectation is that the final two successful applicants will be chosen later on in the year, again with much fanfare.
As part of the presentation surrounding the latest unveiling, Minister Bains noted the $379Mln CDN the Federal government allocated to International Space Station (ISS) activities in 2016 (which covers costs through 2024 and was originally announced by the previous government), the $80Mln CDN the Federal government allocated to new space projects in 2017 and the ongoing activities related to the space working group, which began meeting just two weeks ago to assess potential, future space projects.
As outlined in the 2016-17 Report on Plans and Priorities, published yearly by the CSA, the current CSA base budget (the amount of money required to keep CSA employees on staff and CSA buildings open and functioning even without any activities, exploration or science being undertaken) is $300Mln CDN annually.
The cover page of the April 2017 Impact Brief on "Canadian Tech Tortoises; Is a lack of spending on marketing and sales delaying fundraising?" Graphic c/o Impact Centre.

  • Are Canadian start-ups unable to scale into large corporations? A recent study from The Impact Centre at the University of Toronto seems to think so and might have even suggested a reason why.
As outlined in an April 24th, 2017 e-mail from Charles Plant, a senior fellow with the Impact Centre, "anecdotal evidence suggests that many Canadian technology companies wait until their products are launched before spending funds on crucial functions such as marketing and sales and that this practice is delaying growth and success in fundraising."
The key component missing from Canadian start-ups seems to be that "Canadian firms have significantly fewer employees in marketing and sales functions than US firms do," at least according to Plant.
Plant and his colleagues also found that, "even among the best funded firms, Canadian technology firms have 25% fewer marketing and sales employees than US based Unicorns do. This lack of emphasis on marketing and sales may be delaying and impeding rapid growth and our companies' ability to get funding to scale to world-class status."
The complete April 2017 report, under the title "Canadian Tech Tortoises; Is a lack of spending on marketing and sales delaying fundraising?" is available online at  

A bipartisan reminder, courtesy of the April 30th, 2012 Ottawa Citizen Post, "Agency's Long-term plan years overdue," that the Canadian government space program has been drifting for decades, even as our private space sector activities took off. But at least we've been allowed to publicly assess our flaws, right? Well... Maybe not. Graphic c/o PressReader.

  • Has the CSA "muzzled" its contractors? The latest CSA request for proposal (RFP), posted on the Federal government Buy and Sell procurement website, suggests that it has.
As outlined on the April 24th, Buy and Sell posting, "Radio-Frequency (RF) Communication Contribution Concept Study (9F050-16-0974)," the CSA has issued an RFP for a single contract, "for an all-inclusive budget not to exceed $400,000.00 CDN (excluding any applicable taxes)" covering "potential solution for an RF communications contribution." 
The attachment to the solicitation document (CSA-DSTRF-SOW-0001) under the title, "Post-ISS Human Spaceflight Contributions – Deep Space Telecommunications (DST) RF Concept Study," goes into a little more detail on the nature of the work the CSA is contracting. 
As outlined in the document, the RFP is to help define concepts for "collaborative Beyond Low Earth Orbit (BLEO) Missions" as defined in the NASA global exploration road map, which is being developed by space agencies participating in the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG). 
Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's good that our space agency is co-operating with others to generate useful plans for activities after the ISS winds down.
The main page of the ISECG website, a forum set up by 14 space agencies (including Canada's CSA) to "advance the Global Exploration Strategy through coordination of their mutual efforts in space exploration." Screenshot c/o ISECG.
But there sure seems to be some onerous restrictions on how CSA subcontractors can go about discussing their contributions to this program. 
As outlined on page twenty three of the main solicitation document under the title Communications Activity Coordination Process:
The contractor must coordinate with the CSA’s Directorate of Communications and Public Affairs all Communication Activities pertaining to the present contract. To this end, the contractor must:
  • As soon as the Contractor intends to organize a Communication Activity, send a Notice to the CSA’s Directorate of Communications and Public Affairs. The Communications Notice must include a complete description of the proposed Communication Activity. The Notice must be in writing in accordance with the clause Notice included in the general conditions applicable to the contract. The Communications Notice must include a copy or example of the proposed Communication Activity. 
  • The contractor must provide to the CSA any and all additional document in any appropriate format, example or information that the CSA deems necessary, at its entire discretion to correctly and efficiently coordinate the proposed Communication Activity. The Contractor agrees to only proceed with the proposed Communication Activity after receiving a written confirmation of coordination of the Communication Activity from the CSA’s Directorate of Communications and Public Affairs.
  • The Contractor must receive beforehand the authorization, approval and written confirmation from the CSA’s Directorate of Communications and Public Affairs before organizing, proceeding or hosting a communication activity. 
These clauses makes it essentially impossible for CSA subcontractors to talk to the public without either the formal approval of the CSA Directorate of Communications, unless they are willing to run the risk of becoming non-compliant with their CSA contract.
This is similar to the actions of the previous Stephen Harper conservative government as outlined in the November 6th, 2015 Huffington Post report, "Liberals Unmuzzle Canadian Scientists, Promise They Can Now 'Speak Freely.'"
It's also an activity the current Justin Trudeau Liberal government had insisted was done away with when they took office in 2015. 
Newly minted innovation minister Navdeep Bains at a press conference on Parliament Hill on November 6th, 2015 where he fulfilled a Liberal party campaign promise to allow government scientists and experts to comment on their work to the media and the public. Hopefully, he'll also do the same for our space agency. Photo c/o Adrian Wyld/CP.
Oddly enough, similar clauses are also included in other recent CSA documents posted on Buy and Sell, such as the April 19th, 2017 "Development of enabling space technologies (9F063-160953/A)" notice of proposed procurement (NPP) and the April 5th, 2017 "Dextre Deployable Vision System (DDVS) – Phases B/C and D (9F052-160487/A)" NPP. 
This blog has requested clarification on those contract clauses and the reasons for their inclusion in CSA documents and will update this post as new information becomes available. 
For more, check out our upcoming stories in the Commercial Space blog.

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer.

1 comment:

  1. The issue of "vetting" PR releases is common practice in industry. Usually the guy with the money gets to call the shots re what can and cannot be released and when. That said, CSA is using taxpayer dollars and so should be accountable to the public in this decision. That is, unless it is clearly a security issue or utilizes government owned Intellectual Property obtained from a third party, then CSA should step out of the way. The difficulty comes when CSA tries to prevent releases simply because of some internal issue. I believe every private company in the aerospace sector in Canada has been subjected to at least one instance of this type of control ("gag order"). This has the effect of stripping the corporation or academic institute of the ability to publicize some very credible and important work as a means of marketing. CSA should ENABLE the space sector to allow growth and exports. Using "gag orders" as a means to manage expectations or prevent possible conflicts within government circles is counter-productive.

    Just saying


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