Wednesday, December 26, 2012

2012 in Space for Canada: A Year in Highlights

Here are some of the major high and low points for the Canadian space industry in 2012:

Industry Minister Christian Paradis announcing the aerospace and space review on February 27th. The full text of the ministers speech is available here.
  • The Federal government announced that the long awaited review of the Canadian aerospace ("and space") industry would finally move forward and appointed former MP David Emerson as its head. As outlined in the February 26th, 2012 post "Aerospace (and Space) Policy Review Head Announced," the review mandate was to "explore how government, industry and other key stakeholders can address the key issues facing the aerospace and space sectors, such as innovation, market access and development, skills development, procurement, and supplier development." The review expected to present its final report to the Federal Industry Minister before the end of the year.
  • In March, the Federal government released a new budget which included no funding for the phase D, implementation stage of the RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) and called for a 10% across the board funding reduction in federal government departments, including the CSA. Most Canadian space focused companies (such as COM DEV International, as outlined in the April 16th, 2012 post "COM DEV Learns from its History") began to quietly diversify their client base away from government contracts.
RADARSAT Constellation.
  • MDA, in a bid to restore phase D funding for RCM, issued an increasingly strident series of press releases and interviews in a variety of publications throughout the spring. As outlined in both the May 14th blog post "MDA & RADARSAT Constellation's War of the Words" and the May 27th blog post "Federal Government Says "Yippee Ki Yay" to MDA" these appeals had limited effect on Federal government action due to the concurrent reports of large RCM cost overruns. In November 2012, with no funding on the horizon, the Federal government finally made a public statement of the obvious in response to a question posed in the House of Commons by NDP MP Hélène LeBlanc and indicated that RCM would be delayed by at least two years. By the end of the year, despite public statements of support, the Federal government had still not allocated any further RCM funding.
  • In June, MDA finally succeeded in cutting the "gordian knot" of government contract reliance and entry barriers into the lucrative US marketplace by purchasing a space company with US roots. As outlined in the June 27th, 2012 post "MacDonald Dettwiler buys Space Systems Loral for $875M," the new acquisition allowed MDA immediate access into the US market and changed the company focus from government satellite contracts to private telecommunication satellite manufacturing. Best of all, Defence Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) contracts, a prize MDA had long coveted to help commercialize their SIS technology, began flowing almost immediately and Canadian government funded RCM contracts suddenly became less important to the overall profitability of the firm. Of course, only time will tell how this new state of affairs will effect Canadian employment opportunities at MDA. 
  • Cambridge based small-sat company exactEarth LLP launched one of only two complete Canadian satellites into orbit in 2012. Their exactView EV1 automatic identification system (AIS) satellite, part of a growing constellation of nautical tracking satellites, was launched into orbit from Baikonur on July 22nd. Two months previously on May 18th, the much larger Nimiq 6 communications satellite (manufactured by Space Systems Loral and operated by Telesat Canada for Bell TV) launched from the same location aboard a Proton M launch vehicle. Four other Canadian satellites, the Department of National Defence Surveillance of Space (Sapphire) satellite, the Near-Earth Object Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat) and the CanX-3a and CanX-3b micro-satellites, bundled together as secondary payloads with the joint Indo-French developed Satellite with ARgos and ALtiKa (SARAL), were delayed from their initial December, 2012 launch date and are currently not expected to launch before February 2013.
  • Lethbridge, AB based RapidEye Canada Ltd. acquired German based RapidEye AG on August 29th. The company, complete with a satellite constellation of five Earth imaging satellites originally designed by MDA, began with seed financing from a few private investors and Vereinigte Hagelversicherung, a German agricultural insurance provider in a process indicative of the emerging "NewSpace" industry. Five other emerging companies were profiled in the June 26th, 2012 post on "Five Canadian NewSpace Companies to Watch" and former CSA president William MacDonald ("Mac") Evans joined the board of one of them (UrtheCast) in December 2012.
  • Right on time, David Emerson released his final Aerospace Review Report on November 29th to generally positive reviews and promises from the Federal government not to let the report languish "unread on a shelf." As outlined in the December 5th post "What the Space Volume of the Aerospace Review Actually Says," the review was a surprisingly robust endorsement of both the larger "aerospace and space industry" and the small, emerging Canadian "NewSpace" sector of innovative, space focused businesses. But it also called for new oversight of the CSA and recommended the removal of both its current policy-making role and any direct involvement in the design and manufacture of "space assets purchased by the government."
  • And finally, in what could be the "last hurrah" of the CSA in its current form, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and his Expedition 34 crew members Roman Romanenko and Tom Marshburn docked to the International Space Station (ISS) on December 21st. For Hadfield, this is the start of a five month journey in which he will become the first Canadian to command the space station when the next crew arrives in March. However, no further Canadian astronauts are expected to visit the ISS after Hadfield completes his mission. Add this to the Emerson recommendations, the lack of currently announced funding for RCM, the launch delays for NEOSat and SAPPHIRE plus the lack of any new, funded projects for the CSA and it's reasonable to consider Hadfield's mission as the last real space project the CSA is going to participate in for a long, long time.
What's going to happen next year in space for Canada? Tune in beginning January 1st, 2013 to find out.

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