Thursday, September 13, 2018

Dead Cat Bounce! New Canadian Space "Coalition" Wants Much the Same as Last Time, But With Money

          By Chuck Black

A "new" Canadian space coalition, wrapped around a public advocacy campaign more evocative of a 1996 En Vogue love ballad than any past Canadian space adventure, has rolled out its website and plans to "help secure our place in space."

As outlined on its newly launched "Don’t Let Go Canada website," a group of "concerned Canadians representing industry, academia and the space enthusiast community" have gathered together "to ask the Canadian government to secure Canada’s place in space by putting forward a funded space strategy."

Not that there is anything wrong with that.

In fact, the only real problem with the proposal (other than the silly name, the underlying assumption that nothing can be done without Federal government funding/ supervision and the lack of any academic institution willing to go on record as supporting the plan) is its decision to create a public facing advocacy campaign (complete with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts) instead of opting for the tried and true private advocacy and government lobbyist route.

Aerospace organizations have traditionally only undertaken public advocacy campaigns after the political barn doors have been shut tight on the private efforts.

The concerned Canadians listed on the "Don't Let Go Canada" coalition website include Montreal PQ based ABB Canada, Bolton, ON based Canadensys Aerospace, Sudbury ON based Deltion Innovations Ltd., Mississauga ON based Honeywell Canada, Halifax NS based IMP Group, Sherbrooke PQ based Menya Solutions, Ottawa ON based Mission Control Space Services, Mississauga ON based Magellan Aerospace, Kanata ON based Neptec Design Group (now a subsidiary of MDA, so perhaps not legitimately an independent voice), Brampton ON based MDA (a subsidiary of Westminster CO based Maxar Technologies), Saskatoon SK based SED Systems (a division of Ottawa ON based Callian Ltd), Montreal PQ based Satellite Canada (SATCAN) and Montreal PQ based Xiphos Technologies.

Associations and advocates include the Ottawa ON based Aerospace Industries Association of Canada (AIAC), Kanata ON based Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI), the Toronto ON based Canadian Space Society (CSS), the Canadian chapter of the Pasadena CA based Planetary Society and the Toronto ON based Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC).

University and academic institutions have already benefited big-time from the 2018 Federal budget and that fact might go a long way towards explaining why no academic institution has, so far at least, signed on to the "Don't Let Go Canada" consortium. As outlined in the February 27th, 2018 Toronto Star post, "Budget boosts science research, grant funding," the 2018 Federal budget substancially increased funding for fundamental research. As well, and as outlined in the February 28th, 2018 post, "'Big Winners' in Tuesday's Federal Budget," the Federal government also allocated $100Mln Cdn for low Earth orbit (LEO) broadband initiatives. Most of those funds are expected to end up at Telesat, which hasn't signed on to the "Don't Let Go Canada" consortium, either. Graphic c/o The Star.

Notable by their absence in the "Don't Let Go Canada" coalition are firms like Ottawa ON based Telesat which, as outlined in the September 11th, 2018 Space News post, "Telesat says ideal LEO constellation is 292 satellites, but could be 512," is building its own, quite substantial constellation of orbiting satellites and has already received Federal government funding, Toronto ON based Kepler Communications and Montreal PQ based NorthStar Space Data Inc. which are both attempting to do much the same thing on a smaller scale.

Also missing from the coalition is support from any Canadian university, post secondary school or educational faculty.

As noted most recently in the September 6th, 2018 post, "2018 Listing of 50+ Academic Facilities Contributing to Canadian Space Expertise," there are a lot of academics involved in the space industry.

The inability of the "Don't Let Go Canada" coalition to attract even one to its cause has just got to make life difficult for an organization attempting to represent "industry, academia and the space enthusiast community."

This time around, unlike the last time as outlined in the March 8th, 2018 post, "Space Advisory Board Chair Admits Disappointment over Budget but Promises to Continue to Support Space Sector," the plan is to ask for the money up front.

According to the "Don't Let Go Canada" coalition website, the focus is on asking for a "funded long-term Canadian Space Strategy to guide our way forward," beginning with funding for the Canadian contribution to NASA's proposed Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G) which the consortium calls the "Lunar Gateway."

Not that there is anything wrong with that, either.

This blog, as outlined most recently in the March 22nd, 2018 post, "What Happens After the Failure of the Space Advisory Board?" has argued that the LOP-G would likely receive funding by the Federal government since the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) needs to focus on it's core mission to support the International Space Station (ISS) and whatever may follow on after the ISS is decommissioned, sometime after 2025. Any follow-on programs would likely include close co-operation with NASA (the CSA's favorite international space agency for subcontract work) and would probably include a Canadian contribution to the US led LOP-G.

Maybe its in the best interest of the "Don't Let Go Canada" coalition to advocate for something likely to happen anyway. That way, they end up backing at least one winner.

But as for the part where where the up front money comes with some sort of "strategy" to guide spending, that likely isn't going to happen.

The real strategy, at least from the political perspective, will be to provide enough funding for the expected Canadian LOP-G contractors (most of which are well represented in the "Don't Let Go Canada" coalition) so that they won't cause any trouble for the government in the run up to the next Federal election.

Perhaps the most important takeaway from the new initiative is, as outlined in the September 13th, 2018 SpaceQ post, "New Space Coalition Aims to Pressure Government as Marketing Campaign Begins," the fact that a larger, Canadian based news service has taken an interest in Canadian space activities.

As outlined in the SpaceQ post, "the coalition will be holding a series of events to talk about Canada’s space program and why it’s important to Canadians. The first will be held on Monday in Ottawa and hosted by iPolitics."

iPolitics is an Ottawa ON based news service focused on politics and Canadian events. If it can push out Canadian space activities to a wider audience, then that's a good thing.

The event will also coincide with Washington, DC based Ipsos Public Affairs releasing a public opinion poll on Canadians’ attitudes toward space. Ipsos public opinion polls don't come cheap and the use of one suggests some serious money is behind the current advocacy campaign.

As En Vogue would say, when you add money to the mix, the possibilities are "lovemaking, heartbreaking, soul shaking."

Whether or not those generic, emotional and public facing concepts will influence government funding for the Canadian space industry is another story entirely.
Chuck Black.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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