Monday, December 23, 2013

2013: The Year in Space for Canada

Here are some of the major high and low points for the Canadian space industry in 2013:

Then Federal Industry Minister Christian Paradis being interviewed by host Don Martin on the January 9th, 2013 edition of the CTV News program Power Play.
  • The year certainly started off with a bang for Canada's largest space company as BC based MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA) tied down the final funding for the long delayed and seriously over budget RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM). As outlined in the January 12th, 2013 post "A $706M Fixed Price Contract and Hard Launch Date for RADARSAT Constellation," the final agreement covered the completion of the "phase D" or final construction costs, plus launch costs, operational costs for the first year and even a contractual requirement to "launch the (three) satellites in 2018." RCM, originally expected to cost well under $600Mln CDN ended up costing well above $1Bln CDN mostly because it originally functioned under a series of so called "cost reimbursable" contracts where all direct expenses incurred by RCM contractors were covered automatically and a predefined profit (generally a percentage total of the overall contract) was added on top of the total cost. Of course, nothing is ever 100% and some of the details of the final transaction weren't worked out until much later, as illustrated by the September 20th, 2013 post, "Was the Magellan Contract for RADARSAT Constellation a "National Policy?"
    Steve MacLean.
  • But as the space industry celebrated its greatest success so far, the writing was on the wall for Canadian Space Agency (CSA) president Steve MacLean. As outlined in the January 19th, 2013 post "Praising Steve MacLean," any initiatives deriving from the original mandate of Industry Minister Jim Prentice in 2008 to "make sweeping changes at the CSA" had essentially been superseded by a lack of action and by the November 2012 arm's length Federal government mandated Aerospace Review. Chaired by former politician David Emerson, the Aerospace Review called for an entirely different series of actions, and essentially undercut any authority MacLean may have ever possessed. MacLean managed to hang on tenuously to his job only until February 1st, 2013 when he quit abruptly and was replaced, first by CSA Director General of Space Exploration Gilles Leclerc and later by retired general and former Canadian Forces (CF) Chief of Defence Staff, Walter Natynczyk. As for the Aerospace Review, the majority of the Volume One recommendations covering the aviation industry were addressed over the next few months (as per the March 24th, 2013 post "Emerson's Space Plan Versus the Canadian Budget") and the Volume Two recommendations, which covered the space industry, were also addressed (although less favorably) before the end of the year. 
MDA CEO Daniel Friedmann.
  • Also in April, in an effort to ease communications overcrowding in the far north, Telesat launched the Anik G1 satellite. As outlined in the April 15th, 2013 Universe Today article "Anik G1 Satellite Aims To Ease Communications Overcrowding," the new satellite was designed to "ease the strain of overcrowded communications networks in Latin America, while adding capacity to direct-to-home services in Canada and government and military users across the Americas."
  • Throughout the year, the small but growing global community of space miners and in-situ resource utilization experts continued to visit Canada and not just for the weather. As outlined in the May 10th, 2013 post "Space Miners Meet in Toronto, Again," Canada is expected to continue to take an important, but mostly non-public role, as the new industry opens up.
  • In what was perhaps the last hurrah of the CSA astronaut corps for the foreseeable future, Canadian Chris Hadfield returned from his five month journey aboard the ISS as a triumphant and well known celebrity. As outlined in the May 18th, 2013 post "And Now: Back to our Regular Scheduled Space Programming," Hadfield performed admirably in the role of reminding us why we should explore the universe in the first place. 
  • The privately held UrtheCast reverse takeover (RTO) of publicly traded Longford Energy Inc., intended to culminate in a publicly traded company focused on streaming high-definition video from the International Space Station (ISS), began moving forward in June. As discussed in the June 10th, 2013 post "UrtheCast Proceeds with Takeover and Funding for ISS Camera's," a reverse takeover (RTO), or acquisition of a public company (in this case Longford) by a private company (UrthCast), was done so that the private company could bypass the lengthy, expensive and complex process of going public. UrtheCast completed the reverse takeover within the month and went on to launch two digital cameras to the ISS in November 2013.
The Microvariability and Oscillations of STars (MOST) space telescope.
Phil Lapp.
  • In September 2013, the Canadian space industry was saddened by the death of one of the pioneers. As outlined in the September 28th, 2013 post on "Dr. Philip A. Lapp: 1928 - 2013," his active participation as leader of the Alouette team that built the first Canadian satellite helped Canada become the third nation in space, after the USSR and the United States. Lapp also co-authored a document entitled “Upper Atmosphere and Space Programs in Canada.” The document, written in 1967 and now known simply as the “Chapman Report,” recommended using Canadian satellite and space technology for commercial activities such as communications and resource management instead of focusing only on scientific research. Over time, the report became Canada’s original blueprint for space activities and remains an important reference document to this day.
Walter Natynczyk.
  • In November, after three months on the job, new CSA president Walter Natynczyk  finally gave his first public presentation to generally positive reviews, but also went to great lengths not to say anything of note. As outlined in the November 18th, 2013 post "Space Leaders in Ottawa: The 2013 Canadian Space Summit," Natynczyk made no concrete policy statements, other than to say that space research and development should continue to be done via universities with government funding rather than by government itself. Natynczyk also stated that the CSA was in discussions with various government ministries to implement various recommendations, but declined to mention anything specific, except to note that a new plan of action would be released early in the new year. 
  • Of course, the Federal government almost immediately followed up on the Natynczyk presentation with a far more concrete presentation from current Industry Minister James Moore. As outlined in the December 2nd, 2013 post "Industry Minister Responds to Emerson "Space" Recommendations," Moore provided commitments to partially implement some Aerospace Review recommendations including promises to maintain overall CSA funding "unchanged and at current levels" and to double the current support for the Space Technologies Development Program, a CSA program to provide initial funds for breakthrough technologies. Moore also promised that a "Space Policy Framework for Canada, which will guide Canada's strategic activities and future in space exploration, will be made public in 2014."
Current Industry Minister James Moore.
  • And finally, perhaps in an effort to show that it was still capable of initiating activities, the CSA issued the December 20th, 2013 press release "Canadian Space Agency Awards $6.2M in Contributions to 5 Canadian Universities," which announced the results of its March 28th, 2013 Geospace Observatory (GO) Canada Announcement of Opportunity (AO). According to the press release, "Ten contribution agreements valued at $6.2 million over the next five years will be awarded to the Universities of Alberta, Calgary, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick as well as with Athabasca University. These projects will allow Canadian scientists to better understand how space weather affects the ionosphere (the upper part of the atmosphere made up of ions and electrons) and the consequential impacts on technology."
What's going to happen next year in space for Canada? Tune in beginning January 7th, 2014 to find out.

1 comment:

  1. Good summary Chuck. It is noteworthy that DND launched its first operational satellite in February 2013. The Sapphire satellite is working well and the space situational awareness data that it is collecting is being fed into the Space Surveillance Network which detects, tracks, catalogs and identifies debris and objects orbiting Earth. DND is now an important and active participant in Canada's space program.


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