Sunday, March 20, 2011

News & Notes from the 2011 CSCA Conference.

According to the March 17th, 2011 Canadian Press article "Worry Canada could fall behind in the space business" there is "concern that Canada may eventually fall behind in the increasingly competitive field of satellites and other such technology."

That quote is mine, as indicated in the article and I stand by it, but its only a part of what we were hoping to highlight at the 2011 Canadian Space Commerce Association (CSCA) conference and annual general meeting, held last Friday at the MaRS Discovery District.

Here are a few of the other interesting things that were also going on:
Grant Bonin.
  • The University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) seems to have received some useful publicity through the March 18th, 2011 Canadian Press article "Mini-satellites paying off for U of T flight lab" which states (and rightly so) that the "Institute for Aerospace Studies is building more small satellites than any other organization in Canada." The article also quotes UTIAS SFL Project manager Grant Bonin (likely out of context) as stating that the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has limited funds and can do only so much. To correct the quotation, Mr. Bonin has indicated that what he said was that "the CSA had been extremely helpful to us [SFL], and we have an excellent continuing relationship with them." When asked what he thought about the CSA funding things like a Canadian alternative launch vehicle (LV), he said that "the CSA can only be expected to do so much with its existing budget, and that a Canadian LV was probably more than could be practically afforded right now
    Josh Dore.
    • Speaking of the CSA, it's worth noting that Josh Dore, the technology development manager for the CSA provided a useful outline of CSA missions, structures and requirements in his presentation on commercializing space technologies and CSA VP Chummer Farina ably contributed to the panel discussion at the end of the day. Both specifically mentioned funding restrictions and the impact that funding and government priorities have on the implementation of CSA programs. Both also strongly suggested that business and the public actually have more input into the process than is generally realized and somewhere along in the discussion, it was also mentioned that the federal budget is coming down this week, which could quite likely lead to an election in May 2011. Federal government agencies like the CSA generally don't embark on new policy initiatives during election campaigns.
    Steve Bochinger.
    • The CSA assessment was echoed by Euroconsult North America President Steve Bochinger in his presentation on the "Canadian Space Sector in the International Landscape" where he stated that the Canadian space program has to deal with "permanent budget tension" which has re-focused the traditional Canadian support for pioneer technologies (such as robotic, radar and broadband) into specific support for individual operational systems (such as the Polar Communications and Weather mission and the Radarsat Constellation mission) and demonstrations (such as NEOSSAT and SAPPHIRE). According to Bochinger, the recent difficulty Canada has had formulating a long term space plan highlights "unclear Canadian governance" and makes it unlikely that the CSA alone will be able to develop and commercialize next generation breakthrough technologies.
      Frank Teti.
      • Frank Teti, the MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) manager of autonomous robotics provided a useful overview of the MDA space infrastructure servicing (SIS) project but left out the most important part. Sources at MDA have indicated that a Friday, March 18th, 2011 informational session at the MDA Brampton robotics factory (which will likely perform most of the work on the SIS project) focused on how MDA has moved away from being reliant on "big government contracts" towards a business model focused almost entirely on "commercial services." As outlined in my March 15th, 2011 blog post  "Macdonald Dettwiler Gets "Anchor Customer" for Brampton Robotics Plant" the company has entered into a $280 million dollar agreement with satellite services provider Intelsat S.A for the on-orbit refueling and servicing of Intelsat satellites.
        An artists rendering of Martian greenhouses.
        Christian Sallaburger.
        Canadian Venture Capital Association.
        • A number of smaller companies also received useful exposure to the larger space focused Canadian community. These include Nuvu Cameras (which talked about their newly developed camera and why NASA just had to buy it) and the three firms participating in the Start-Up liftoff presentations, where companies present start-up ventures in a format modeled after the successful O'Reily Ignite Talks. Hopefully this will impress the Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (CVCA) which traded membership with the CSCA and is listed as a platinum sponsor for the event.
        Maj. Marc Fricker.
        Also of note were the presentations from Joshua Brost, the manager of business development for Space-X and Maj. Marc Fricker, who presented remotely from his office at the Royal Military College (RMC). Both mentioned a defined Canadian need for a small micro-sat launch capability but Brost focused on how vertical integration was the key to his firms success and Maj. Fricker focused on the Canadian Defense Space Program (which was supposed to be public policy by now but seems to be stuck in a perpetual committee meeting in Ottawa, just like the CSA's long-term space plan). 

        No doubt this isn't a comprehensive list of everything that happened on Friday (after all, I spent the day in the front of the room as the host) but it does seem to be a fair overview of some of the more interesting items.

        For those looking for a second point of view and a little more context to the event, it's worthwhile checking out the March 21st, 2011 Marc Boucher editorial over at titled "Harper Government and Ottawa Bureaucracy Hamper Commercial Space Industry."

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