Friday, April 15, 2011

Two Billion Dollars for the Canadian Space Agency
Part 3: How to Grow the CSA Budget.

Steve MacLean with Jim Prentice in March 2008.
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."

Part of the context for his comments at that meeting might have been frustration over the loss of his initial mandate from then Industry Minister Jim Prentice to create a new long-term space plan (LTSP) to guide industry and facilitate job growth as outlined in my February 15th, 2010 post "Ottawa Citizen: Where did that Long Term Space Plan Go?"

Campaigning party leaders Stephen Harper, Jack Layton, Michael Ignatieff and Gilles Duceppe with Elizabeth May (insert) in April 2011. Shouldn't someone ask about the long term space plan?
Without a LTSP outlining future priorities, the CSA budget has stagnated and no new ministerial initiatives have been presented to modify existing priorities, close down completed projects or embark on new plans (except perhaps for the recently announced "aerospace review," included within the latest federal budget but also needing to be reintroduced after the election and promising only to take an additional 12-18 months to look at the situation some more).

Should CSA astronauts apply at Virgin Galactic?
Essentially, the entire CSA is locked into a holding pattern waiting for something (perhaps anything) to happen.

Why is that?

In part 1 of this post, titled "Do We Really Punch Above our Weight?," I compared CSA activities to those of five national space programs with equivalent budgets and concluded that they each possess a combination of rockets, astronauts, robotics and strong science programs generally comparable and of equivalent size to Canadian programs (which is a nice way of saying "No. We don't").

In part 2 of this post, titled "What Our Federal Government Thinks," I focused on how the federal government considers the CSA as a small component of the larger grouping of research and development agencies focused on "commercialization" to which it already allocates several billion dollars each year. This makes it difficult for the CSA to focus on it's traditional areas of expertise such as "exploration" and "development" or differentiate itself from other government departments.

Anik A1.
So there seems little possibility of the CSA ever receiving an increase in funding unless it can both differentiate it’s programs from other Canadian R&D funding programs focused on "commercialization" and focus instead on traditional CSA areas of expertise.

Two historical examples seem to be applicable:
  • Telesat, (created in 1969 as a Canadian government owned or "crown" corporation under the Pierre Trudeau liberal government) was originally mandated simply to develop communications services in the far north. It used technology developed through another government department, the Communications Research Centre (CRC), which was then responsible for coordinating research and development activities in communications. CRC activities then were much like CSA activities now and included most of Canada's early satellite launches. This technology transfusion from CRC certainly helped Telesat to become an iconic representation of how Canadians use space focused "development" solutions to solve terrestrial problems, tie together the country and then continue forward to make a bit of money on the side.
Radarsat 1.
Oddly enough, both these projects were well funded by the respective federal governments of the day and ended up actually making Canadians a great deal of money even though they weren't initially focused around any specific "commercialization" requirement. Telsat grew into the fourth largest telecommunications company in the world and Radarsat allowed satellite operator MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) to serve as the midwife to an entire industry wrapped around Earth imaging and geomatics.

John Chapman in 1967.
And here's where it gets interesting because much of the impetus for both these programs came from John Chapman (1921-1979) who was senior author of a 1967 report entitled "Upper Atmosphere and Space Programs in Canada."

This document (which later became known as the Chapman Report) recommended using Canadian satellites to solve communications and resource management problems caused by Canada's large size. It was so successful that it became our original space exploration blueprint, forming the basis for all subsequent Canadian LTSP's.

The core of the Chapman Report was it's definition of telecommunications and Earth imaging as being Canadian "development" problems that could be solved using space "exploration" tools and techniques. This is much different approach from the overall federal government focus on the concept of "commercialization" as outlined in Industry Canada 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), which largely governs our current CSA activities.

Commercialization focuses on developing items and products which can be sold to other people to solve their problems, which is all well and good but doesn't really fire up Canadian politicians in quite the same way as finding a Canadian solution to a Canadian problem with Canadian tools and then being able to take direct political credit for it.

Few argue with the success of the methodology outlined in the Chapman report.

As implemented by both Telesat and MDA, it provides a blueprint for shaking loose up-front federal government funds for research and development initiatives and then using the funds to build successful, world class private companies that actually do innovative things and solve problems, rather than just selling parts and pieces to others.

Another problem looking for a Canadian solution?
For the CSA to grow it's budget, it must define a unique Canadian problem needing a solution just like the Chapman report did. This problem could be related to national sovereignty (which is what MDA is focusing on with their follow-on Radarsat Constellation project), satellite-based ship monitoring for global coastal authorities (which is what Com Dev International subsidiary exactEarth Ltd. is presently working on) or maybe even dealing with internet backhaul issues (which is what Microsat Systems Canada is attempting to raise money for).

But it likely won't be Moon rovers or any of the other disjointed science projects wrapped around centers of excellence and capacity building programs that the CSA seems so terribly keen on funding lately because those rovers and projects don't come explicitly attached to Canadian problems requiring Canadian solutions.

They're just little parts and pieces that the CSA sometimes sells to others.

Once the CSA and the Canadian space systems industry figure this out, the federal government money will start to flow, whether or not our current LTSP ever gets released.


  1. How about a $5 billion annual budget for CSA $50 billion for NASA. Check out gepsd business plan modern day large scale "Marshall Plan" for space development.

  2. More money doing nothing is not a solution.

    The solution is to define a problem requiring specific, space focused technologies in order to solve.

    Then we solve the problem.

    Canada has done this before with Telesat and RADARSAT. The US focused on the "space race" and beating the Soviets to the Moon and solved that problem.

    Our next problem could be low cost energy (which we'd solve using space based solar power or Helium 3 mining on the Moon) or protecting our natural resources (which we'd first inventory using Earth imaging satellites) or something else.

    Then we solve the problem. Solving a problem is the only way we're ever going to get that increased funding for NASA (CSA) that everyone seems to want.


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