Monday, January 10, 2011

Favoring Informed and Spirited Public Discussion

With all the violent rhetoric, political confusion and public pigeonholing going on in both Canada and the United States over the last little while, it's important to remember that the core of a vibrant democratic society is informed and spirited public discussion.

Randy Shelly
One of those contributing to the discussion and development of an informed Canadian space policy is Randy Shelly, who recently responded to the January 3rd, 2011 David Pugliese article "Space Agency, DND seek to launch rockets for Canada" with one of his own.

Titled "Canada's Satellite Plan," the January 6th, 2011 response to the Pugliese article makes the perfectly reasonable point that "...(while) I share the desire for an independent Canadian space industry, including our own launcher ... we have to keep in mind that our jobs are to serve the Canadian taxpayer, rather than ourselves."

According to Shelly, the current vision of the Department of National Defence (DND) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) is to develop launchers capable of "launching small satellites, which range up to 1,000 kilograms, but are more typically in the 250 kilogram to 500 kilogram range."

He thinks Canada should be focusing on smaller satellites in the under 100 kilogram range. In a conversation from his home in Ottawa, he states:
I believe that the CSA and DND rightfully consider it important to have better control over small satellites (100 - 1000 kg) as opposed to micro-satellites (which are typically in the 10 - 100 kg range) because these are likely to have more national importance in the near term. RADARSAT Constellation is a good example of this.

But I also personally believe that a launcher to handle these larger payloads is just barely out of Canada's league because of Canada's small tax base (when compared to those with this capability) and because most countries who do possess this ability typically draw on their ballistic missile launch capabilities, which is an expertise Canada cannot claim. 
But Shelly, who managed the Canadian Forces Surveillance of Space (Sapphire) program from 2004 until 2009 and presently acts as a consultant and subject matter expert for the project (through his personal firm Raedwulf Space and Defence) feels there are Canadian companies able to develop the smaller launchers now.
Pardon my expression, but this is no longer rocket science.

Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC), the research and development arm of the DND has had discussions with a couple (of the Canadian firms), and there is no doubt that they could do the job (of launching small payloads into orbit).

But we do have to keep in mind that expecting even the smaller launcher to be commercially viable right out the gate is just naive. We would still need government development money and ongoing government financial support to make this work.

The important point is that we can do this and it could be well worth the investment.
In essence, Shelly makes useful points on a topic of which he possesses substantial expertise. While he is one of the first to respond on this issue, he should not be the only one to add important information to the public discussion of policy options.

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