Sunday, December 05, 2010

Utilizing the Canadian Economic Action Plan

Except for the RADARSAT constellation program (which is separately funded by the federal government), one or two Canadian military programs (such as Sapphire) and any money that might be saved by downsizing it's astronaut corps (which is what the US is studying, according to the December 1st, 2010 article in the Los Angeles Times titled "Astronauts considered in NASA budget cuts"), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) yearly budget of approximately  $375 million doesn't really do much more than support existing infrastructure and maintain ongoing projects.

In essence, it provides enough cash on hand to keep the lights on at CSA headquarters in the John H. Chapman Space Centre, but not a whole lot more.

That's why the Canadian Economic Action Plan, with its additional $110 million CDN allocated for exploration surface mobility (Moon rovers) and the next generation Canadarm is so important to the CSA. The action plan provides the only real funding for pretty much everything new the CSA is going to be able to develop over the next few years.
Lights on at CSA HQ. Photo courtesy WZMH Architects.
Unfortunately, this program is winding down in March 2011.

For those of us who follow these things, here is a partial list of Canadian companies and organizations involved in recent contracts awarded to Neptec Design Group and Macdonald Dettwiler (MDA) for $11.5 million each to build the lunar exploration light rover (LELR) prototype.
  • The MDA project will "develop two next-generation lunar rover prototypes" according to the November 19th, 2010 Vancouver Sun article "MDA inks 11.5m deal for two lunar rovers" and will be integrated with a number of other Canadian technologies being developed under "separate MDA contracts." This likely means that MDA will develop most of their prototype internally while Neptec depends on external expertise.
It's worth noting that, according to the November 22nd article "MDA and Neptec Awarded Contracts to Build Lunar Exploration Light Rover Prototypes," the awarded contracts are simple design studies and no actual rovers may ever get built:
Currently there is no funding to develop a production lunar rover that would actually go to the moon. However the investments made to date are intended to position Canada in such a way that if Canada's space exploration partners agree on a rover mission to the Moon that Canada would be poised to contribute in a significant way.
So the CSA is essentially "working on spec"with the lunar rover program, investing time and resources with no guarantee of future funding and no real market (so far).

The primary funding program for the rovers is also winding down next spring. It will be interesting to see if this CSA gamble to develop new projects for future space missions ever pays off.

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