Sunday, February 27, 2011

Two Billion Dollars for the Canadian Space Agency
Part 2: What Our Federal Government Thinks!

Captain Canuck "punches above his weight."
This series of posts were written in response to comments Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president Steve MacLean made on May 12th, 2010, while presenting to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology (INDU) where he said that an extra two billion dollars, spread out over five years was needed to to "put us at the table" of international space activities and "drive innovation."

In part 1 of this post, titled "Do We Really "Punch Above our Weight?" I compared CSA activities to those of other national space programs with equivalent budgets such as the Iranian Space Agency (ISA), the UK Space Agency (UKSA), the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB), the South Korean Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) and the National Space Agency of the Ukraine (NSAU).

Dudley Do-Right doesn't.
The conclusion reached was that space agencies with budgets in the $200 - $500 million dollar per year range all generally have a useful combination of rockets, astronauts, robotics and strong science programs just like Canada.

Sometimes, their stuff is even better than ours.

So while the CSA is doing some interesting things, we're not necessarily  "punching above our weight" or performing on the international stage in a manner all out of proportion to our funding.

But here's where it starts to get interesting.

While the CSA lists an annual budget of $300 million dollars per year on the CSA FAQ's web page, almost no one in government (or anywhere else for that matter) actually believes the CSA budget is that small.

At the very least, for any legitimate assessment of the CSA budget, we need to include at least two additional items. These are:
    A smart politician will also immediately realize that several billion additional dollars are also available for general research and science through other federal government departments.

    Johnny Canuck. Wholesome, but simple minded.
    These programs are included as part of the budgets of Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) with its $300 million per year budget, the National Research Council (NRC) with it's larger $800 million per year budget, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) with it's even larger $958 million per year budget and quite a few other departments and councils which can (and often do) end up funding space focused or CSA originated programs.

    These additional funding sources are on top of the formal CSA budget.

    As well, each of these other departments (except for DRDC) is also tasked by the federal government with the very same mission to "drive innovation" as the CSA.

    They're each governed by the current Industry Canada science & technology strategy as outlined in documents like the Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada's Advantage (May 2007) and the Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada's Advantage Progress Report (June 2009). Those two documents are the closest thing Canada has had to a long term space strategy since the 2003 publication of "The Canadian Space Strategy."

    Canada Jack. Acrobatic, skilled gymast.
    In essence, the federal government considers the CSA as a smaller part of the larger subset of research and development agencies to which it already allocates several billion dollars each year.

    But the Industry Canada policies focus on commercialization, which is well outside the traditional exploration and development mandates of previous CSA long term space plans.

    The CSA doesn't even officially track commercialization, but instead tends to focus on hiving off successful technologies (like communications satellites and Earth imaging) to private industry and small business where they often become widely successful, but never really contribute to the perception of CSA expertise, success or the fulfillment of Industry Canada mandates.

    And the politicians perceive of this as being all the same crap (or government funding bucket), for the same purpose (to drive innovation and create jobs)  but from different piles (or government agencies).

    Wolverine. Effective, current and also Canadian.
    So when CSA president MacLean asks for two billion additional dollars, the standard government response is to smile politely and then ignore him even though he's asking for the money to perform a traditional mandate that other agencies won't contemplate.

    But the government just doesn't perceive these difference between the CSA and other Industry Canada departments and the consensus is that they're already contributing billions of dollars to an activity which the CSA doesn't seem to understand very well, but should.

    Now the government perception doesn't automatically have to be this way and even if it stays blinkered, there are steps that can be taken to grow the CSA budget and build credibility for space focused exploration and development activities, just so long as we remember that we also need to include a commercialization aspect (plus track successful projects and commercial spin-offs).

    How to go about doing that will be the subject for part 3 of this post.

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