Saturday, July 07, 2012

The 1967 Recommendation to Build a Canadian Launcher

It's not generally known that Canada's original blueprint for space activities understood that "Canada will, within the next decade, need to launch small scientific satellites at a rate which will justify supply from Canadian sources."

This specific statement is part of the 11th and final chapter (focused on "Recommendations") of the report entitled “Upper Atmosphere and Space Programs in Canada” which was written over 45 years ago, but which is still publicly referenced and as good of a description of our Canadian space interests as anything currently coming out of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

The report, a technical study originally commissioned in 1967 by the Science Secretariat (which was then a part of the Federal Government Privy Council Office), recommended using Canadian satellite and space technology for commercial activities such as communications and resource management instead of focusing only on scientific research.

John Chapman in 1967.
Over time, the report became “Canada’s Original Blueprint” for space activities and is now known simply as the “Chapman Report,” out of respect for senior author, John H. Chapman (1921-1979). 

The Chapman name was also attached to the John H. Chapman Award of Excellence, established in 2000 to celebrate and honor the members of the space community for the advancement of the Canadian space program, so you just know the author and his report were well respected.

But it's not commonly known that the report dealt with the issues surrounding the development of a Canadian small-sat launch capability. For example, there is this sentence in chapter 11 specifically recommending:
The initiation of a design and cost study for a small-satellite launch vehicle and related facilities for Canadian use.
Of course, by now there are a lot of those studies lying around, since every few years a new one is commissioned. The most recent, as outlined in the December 9th, 2009 article "A Rocket to Call Our Own? Canadian Space Agency Explores the Business Case," were commissioned during the 2008 - 2009 period and  have never been  made public.

A 1981 photo of a Black Brant X, Canadian suborbital sounding rocket. 

Which is a shame, because the Chapman Report went far further than simply recommending further studies. Chapter 11 also understood that: 
The domestic need for launch vehicles and space hardware is growing. Developments of this nature in other countries are fully supported by government on military or other grounds.

Therefore we recommend:

  • That industrially based, study and research and development programs, fully funded, be undertaken on launch-vehicle systems and components to meet Canadian needs. 
  • That systems management and prime contract activities be awarded to Canadian industry for the development and supply of the major hardware portions of the Canadian space program.
In essence, the Chapman report also recommended awarding contracts to Canadian companies to develop and build rocket components with the expectation that eventually the country would be fully capable of launching Canadian rockets from Canadian facilities with Canadian payloads into orbit.

In the 1960's this was a reasonable expectation since Canada then possessed substantial rocketry expertise as outlined in the report and at least one rocket actual launching facility located in Churchill, Manitoba.

In those days, the sky really was the limit for Canadian technology.

Maybe the CSA should release some of the those rocketry studies, just so we know if/ and/ or when the Chapman report contributors "fell off  the turnip truck," at least regarding this one, specific recommendation.

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