Thursday, March 22, 2018

What Happens After the Failure of the Space Advisory Board?

         By Chuck Black

The Space Advisory Board (SAB), renewed in October 2016 by the Federal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in order to "advise the Government of Canada on long-term objectives for space and to engage with Canadians," isn't quite dead yet, but it's days are certainly numbered.

With all the billions of dollars flowing to scientists in the 2018 Federal budget, as outlined in the February 27th, 2018 University Affairs post, "Budget 2018 gives a major boost to fundamental research in Canada," you'd think that the Trudeau Liberals could have allocated a few tens of millions for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) or said something nice about space in order to keep the SAB from looking incompetent. The reasons for rejecting any new funding for the CSA go back to 2012 and were outlined initially in the December 5th, 2012 post, "What the Space Volume of the Aerospace Review Actually Says." They derived from the 2012 David Emerson led Aerospace Review, which advocated the removal of much of the CSA's independence because of perceived fiscal irregularities. Emerson enjoyed broad bipartisan support when it was adapted as public policy by the Federal government under then Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Graphic c/o YouTube.

The Trudeau government has failed to respond in the February 28th, 2018 Federal Budget or anywhere else, to the documentation generated by the SAB during the various round-table discussions held between April and May 2017, or to the final report, released on August 18th, 2017 under the title "Consultations on Canada’s future in space: What we heard."

As outlined in articles such as the March 8th, 2018 post, "Space Advisory Board Chair Admits Disappointment over Budget but Promises to Continue to Support Space Sector," and the March 13th, 2018 Globe and Mail post, "Lost in space: Why Canada’s diminishing role in the heavens is a problem," the response from the space community has been so bad that even the members of the SAB have come out against the governments lack of response to their report.

Oddly enough the final report requested only that space be dedicated as a "national strategic asset," and that the SAB be allowed to "remain engaged" with "stakeholders" to finish a report which could actually draw conclusions and recommend action.

At this point, neither of those things are going to happen. 

A scanned copy of the lower section of page three from the September 13th, 2015 Toronto Star. As outlined in the September 15th, 2015 post, "Part 1: Abandoning the Emerson Aerospace Review?," both the Federal Liberal party and the NDP promised to role back the Emerson Aerospace Review in favor of new funding and a revised "long-term space plan," during the 2015 Federal election. But once the Liberals gained power, the party changed its mind. David Emerson, the chair of the 2012 review, began his political career in 2004 as the Liberal candidate in Vancouver Kingsway before crossing the floor to join the governing Federal Conservative party in 2006, and possessed a fair understanding of the political process. That knowledge goes a long way towards explaining why the 2012 Aerospace Review is influential to this day. Scan c/o Toronto Star.

So what will happen? That's easy enough to guess.

The SAB will fade away, if only because they have lost the support of both the space community and the Federal government.

The SAB's supporters in the space community will come to the perfectly sensible conclusion that the SAB is unable to generate funding and support for their personal projects, or for the larger industry, and they'll move on.

The Federal government will conclude that the SAB cannot be reasonably expected to keep their mouths shut and support the government in the hope of receiving some political payback at some future date, and will also move on.

The Feds will have a particularity strong case for coming to this conclusion, given the recent public comments from many of the SAB members. 

As for everyone else:
As some point, likely after the current NASA budget is passed and assessed, more money may become available for further Canadian contributions to the LOP-G. As outlined in the March 22nd, 2018 Space Policy Online post, "NASA Budget to Soar Over $20 Billion in Final FY2018 Appropriations," the signs are currently positive. 
And, to be fair, none of the funding for the LOP-G or any of the other core CSA missions was ever dependent on input from the SAB.
  • The business community will note that private corporations with ideas requiring space assets to create programs useful to Canadians, will still have a fair shot at funding, although that funding will be paid directly rather than provided through the CSA.
As outlined in the February 28th, 2018 post, ""Big Winners" in Tuesday's Federal Budget," the Federal government has put aside $100Mln CDN in the 2018 Federal budget for "firms planning to develop constellations of low Earth orbiting (LEO) satellites intended to bring internet services to rural parts of the country."
What better way to use space assets to solve domestic problems and help tie the country together. 
Of course, the business community will also abandon the communal process favored by the SAB in favor of more traditional, individual sales pitches direct to government and important "stakeholders."
They will also move on to greener pastures.
As outlined in the February 27th, 2018 Toronto Star post, "Budget boosts science research, grant funding," the 2018 Canadian Federal budget committed "$925Mln CDN over the next five years for the three main research granting councils," which represents "a 25-per-cent increase in “fundamental research” over existing levels by 2021."
In addition, "the budget proposed $275Mln CDN over the same period for “interdisciplinary . . . and higher-risk” research, to be administered by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC)."
Not that there is anything wrong with the budget increase in other areas. All things considered, it could certainly be worse.

But overall. the space industry in Canada will continue along pretty much as it has since 2012, when the David Emerson led Aerospace Review was first released. Perhaps the true assessment of what the SAB brought to the table is to note that, without it, nothing much has changed.

Maybe we'll do a better job next time.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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